I honestly thought we’d come to a point in time where people realized that sharing jokes and memes that use the word “retarded” is in extremely bad taste. But again, there is a joke circling on social media and via email that uses the word retarded in a way that is offensive and hurtful. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or lack of education but I don’t understand how people can press “share” or “forward” on something that furthers the stigma that families like mine spend so much of their lives trying to change. As hard as we try as parents to educate, there continues to be a stigma attached to people with cognitive impairments and when you use the word “retarded” as if it is synonymous with stupid or in any way other than that in which was intended, you propagate that stigma.
Retarded is having to sit through parent teacher interviews as the teacher tells you all the things that are too difficult for your child, even though she works on them every single night at home. Retarded is having to explain to your daughter why a friend didn’t invite her to her birthday party even though she really wanted to go. Retarded is being so proud of your daughter’s reading that you are ready to burst then seeing the pity in people eyes when you show them a video and they can’t figure out exactly what you’re proud of. Retarded is watching people stare at your child and make rude gestures or laugh and then turn away. You know what retarded isn’t? It’s not funny.
Being retarded is not a joke and sharing jokes that make light of it are hurtful and detrimental to families like mine who fight like hell for their children to have better lives. Not to mention the fact that sharing these sorts of “jokes” shows us that you think that our child is less. My daughter meets the medical definition of the word retarded. She is bright, beautiful, happy and determined, she deserves to be seen for what she is, not to be made to feel inferior by people who choose to use the word retarded as if it is funny or in a derogative fashion. You can say it’s a joke all you want, but you know what? It’s not a joke to me. It’s my life and worse yet, it’s my daughter’s life and she will fight and struggle every step of the way as she grows and tries to earn respect in the world. You set her back when you share those jokes.
The word retarded is so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even realize how much it hurts but I can assure you as I sit here typing this and wondering how my daughter is ever going to find a place in this world where she is safe from this kind of disrespect, that it is very, very hurtful. She is not stupid. Her brain simply works differently and it takes her more time to learn but she is strong, capable and persistent. She overcomes everything that is put in her path. She has so much to give to the world so let’s try to make this journey a little easier and stop using words that make her path more difficult.