The r-word is just another word in our vocabulary. Another word that we took from the dictionary and changed it to define common things in life. I hear it everyday. I realize that it is a word that is ingrained in our society and people use it without even thinking about its true meaning.
What does it mean to be retarded?
I can tell you what it doesn’t mean…
It’s not when you forget something.
It doesn’t mean when someone is driving bad.
It is not a way that you look in your outfit.
It's not your hair on a "bad" day.
It doesn’t mean when you put money in the soda machine and it doesn’t give you change.
It’s not when you trip in front of your friends.
It doesn’t mean when your cell phone, iPod or computer isn’t working.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word retarded means “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.”
You may not mean to use the word in a hurtful way but each time I hear the word, I cringe. I cry on the inside. For Kayla.
You see, none of us choose our circumstances in life. None of us choose if we are born male or female, black or white, short or tall, typical or disabled.
Kayla didn’t choose to be born with Down syndrome…and it is not because my husband or I did something “wrong”…it just happened. Down syndrome is the most common occurring genetic disorder caused when the 21st chromosome has 3 copies instead of just two.
So when you use the word retarded, whether you realize it or not, you are hurting a population of people that just like you, didn’t choose their circumstances.
Kayla didn’t choose to have to work harder to accomplish her goals. She didn’t choose to be different than you. She didn’t choose to be looked at or judged as being disabled.
What I do know about Kayla is this…
She loves unconditionally.
She is amazingly self-confident.
She works hard everyday.
She is extremely intelligent.
She finds joy in everything.
While she may have to work harder to keep up with her peers…she is a completely typical, completely sassy five year old. She knows how to say no and voice her opinion. She can read, write, count, sing and do just about everything else her typical peers do. She loves Justin Bieber, cheerleading and shopping for new clothes.
So…this is Kayla. Her diagnosis is Down syndrome but it will never define who she is…and neither will the r-word. While we may not be able to control our circumstances, we were all born with the ability to choose. Our life is filled with choices everyday. What we do, what we say and how we react to others. So when you call yourself, your friends or objects around you retarded, that is your choice. But I am entitled to my opinion; which will always be that your choice to use that word is degrading and demeaning. Please know that while you may choose to define yourself as such, that word will never define what Kayla is or who she will become in life.
So yes, while it may take Kayla longer to learn things in life, she still deserves the same things that you do...to be accepted, treated kind, and most of all respected. So…if you choose to use an r-word…how about respect? I can only imagine how great this world would be if we all respected each other. While we may not be able to choose our circumstances in life, we can choose how we treat people. Recognizing the words we choose frame how we think about others, please consider exchanging the word retarded for respect. For Kayla...and all of her friends. Thank you.