Taking Back The Word Retarded


As the parent of a child with developmental challenges, delays, cognitive disabilities… however you want to label it, I often flip-flop between two perspectives.

1. Wanting to let my fists fly (which is pretty hysterical if you’ve ever seen me try to punch something) on anyone who uses the word retarded.

2. Simply allowing the word to bounce off me and ricochet back at them. People who use the word retard are outing themselves as people I’d rather not know. Their word choice says everything about them and nothing about my child or anyone with special needs.

I seem to be juxtaposed between violence and a “so be it” attitude so instead of choosing a perspective, I’m creating a new one. I’m going to take back the R-Word.

Others have done it—taken a word used to discriminate and have claimed it as their own. By doing so they’ve taken the wind out of many biggoty sails.

My daughter is retarded…

Okay wait, I need to ease my way into this because just typing that made me squirm. Those seven letters pack a punch.

Retard means delayed or slow.
By definition, my daughter is slow.

She’s slow to anger.
She’s slow to hate.
She slows down to pay attention to the little things.  
She’s slow to pass judgement on anyone.
She lives life in the slow lane and she’s happy there.

I’ve written about the R-Word before so what inspired this latest post?


Some kid behind me in line for a roller coaster at a local amusement park, to his friend: “Oh my god, you’re such a retard. Seriously dude, why you gotta be so retarded?”

Me turning around (after having theoretically “taken back” the word): “What a lovely thing to say to your friend. It’s a gift to be retarded—being able to slow down the pace of life and soak it all in. What a special friend you must have there. Being retarded rules, right?”

Of course this conversation didn’t actually take place. Well, the first part happened—the part where this child playfully tossed the R-Word around like a Frisbee at the beach. However, I made the choice not to engage. I didn’t want to embarrass my son and his friend who were waiting happily for their roller coaster ride. Instead I stood in silence and fumed.

After writing this stream of consciousness post I’ve decided…

I don’t actually want to take the R-Word back.
I can’t stand the word no matter what positive spin I try to put on it. 
I don’t want to own it.
I don’t even want to know it.

And next time? I will turn around and say something. And it won’t be positive and contemplative. But it will be respectful, direct and to the point and spoken in my “teacher” voice. 

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