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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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« Some disorganized ramblings along with these sketches | Main | Video: Will you just submit, already? »
Wednesday
Mar072012

About a boy. And a word. 

I've never met Max, but I feel like I know him. I know him through Ellen's blog and I know him through our conversations. I know him when I look at his pictures. I see his intelligence, his humor, his spirit. I see potential.


There are people who would call this boy "retarded." I would not care to know them.

I knew a man, now gone--my cousin who suffered from a severe form of neurofibromatosis. He became increasingly disabled throughout his life, which endured long, long past the time predicted for him--a testament to his mother's constant care, and his own spirit. I knew this man, who never complained, who was always happy to see his family, when he was enduring what must have been constant pain and discomfort. He was still the light of his mother's life, even when he was in sixties and she over 90, and I saw that light leave her eyes the day he died. It never came back.

Would you have made a "retard" joke around this woman?

The word "retarded" was used when our grasp of what intelligence even meant was incredibly primitive. We still understand so little about the brain. We're beginning to see how people labeled "slow" often have potential locked inside. Research is showing that there are innumerable ways of being intelligent. That the brain is ever-changing, not static. Labels have become meaningless. The word "retarded" is archaic and of no use, medically.

As slang, it is simply hurtful. By labeling someone or something "retarded" you are using a word that has caused people with disabilities and the countless people who love them pain. You are putting down people who deserve our respect. You are perpetrating the belief that some people are less human, are objects, can be laughed at.



Please watch this. And thank you, Ellen, for making this video.


Reader Comments (20)

Thank you so much for writing this post and for taking a stand against a truly ugly word.

Together we can do the right thing and demand respect for individuals of all abilities.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSunday Stilwell

My 4 year old son has cerebral palsy. My family who loves him very much still uses the word. Every single time it is said I wince as if it was an actual stone they threw. This matters. Please please think before you speak.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

Preach it! Thank you! Thank you!

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessi

Thanks, Alice. I work with individuals with dementia and other memory disorders, and I feel the same way about words/phrases like "senile" and "not all there." Some people are left so outside, so on the periphery of life, that the rest of us can't even bother to keep up with the real names of their illnesses - even when true, medically helpful labels have been around for DECADES. If we are going to speak about these people in any casual capacity, we owe it to them to be as respectful as we can.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

Thank YOU for speaking out about this word and so eloquently articulating the etymology and why it's become a hurtful word. And thanks, too, for looking past Max's disabilities and seeing the Abilities, something so many people can't see.

I needed to read this, I made the mistake of looking at some comments on CNN article on Spread The Word To End The Word. There are some seriously nasty people there, but the one that's stuck in my brain is the commenter who noted that other species kill their disabled when they are young. Um, WTF?

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEllen S.

Oh, Ellen. No more reading those comments!

Some species also eat their own poop.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralice

"Some species also eat their own poop."

Game, set, match.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

amen. and amen. i have the privilege of working with students who are not "mainstream" students every day. they teach me more than i could ever teach them and have far more abilities than disabilities. love this campaign. love your blog.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Thank you so much for this. As a special ed teacher, ending use of the r-word is an issue that is dear to my heart. Often it feels like parents of special kids are the only ones in this fight with us. It's good to be reminded that other people do care.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuperfantastic

Thank you for posting this. My 19 month old daughter, Lily, has a metabolic disorder that has left her with multiple physical and neurological disabilities. She functions at about the level of a 4 month old. It kills me how readily people will throw around the word retarded. She is much much more than her disease. She's one of the funniest and most resilient people I've ever met.

Also, the comment about the poop is genius.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy E.

I'm glad more people are talking about this now. For my entire adolescence and adult life, I've been asking people around me to stop using this word. And I'll keep doing it, because I used to say it too, when I was a kid. And then one day, a teacher overheard me, took me aside, and asked me to think about how one of the kids in the special ed. program would feel if they heard me. I cried. I felt so terrible; it had never occurred to me what the word meant, or what it might mean to someone else. Slowly but surely, people around me are taking it out of their vocabulary, and usually they've just never been called upon to think about it. Sometimes good people just need a nudge.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterK8

Thanks for sharing this video. Well done.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mommy Psychologist

I've been working with kids like Max for 2 years now. Before, I worked with recovering alcoholics. Being with the children I work with now has made me a happy, content person, and one who loves life. For these kids are the greatest, most courageous and stunningly individual human beings I've ever come across!

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiriam

Alice, I so needed that laugh, thanks! And, yep, I stopped reading the comments.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEllen S.

Thanks for posting this. My daughter has autism and amazes me everyday in how she takes on life. As another poster said, it's good to see this message being spread on a blog that's not by a parent of a special needs child. Sometimes we do feel like we're in the fight alone. And to Ellen - great video.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Thanks for the heads-up. I have hesitatingly used the word before, as I really did know better. We all really do know better, don't we? Now I'll be even more aware to not use it and ask others around me not to as well.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRCM

I personally know a lot of people that have autism especially young boys. I think that I am going to support a charity that helps out autistic people.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Johnson

Thank you, thank you, thank you "an infinity of times" for posting and sharing the video.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

On a similar note, have you seen this?

http://nolafemmes.com/2012/02/23/litupparade/

Make sure you read the follow up post for the happy ending where some awesome New Orleans ladies banded together and made this girl's Mardi Gras one to remember.

http://nolafemmes.com/2012/02/25/thats-how-we-roll/

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJill W.

I was wondering about that word as I noticed it much more when I started reading blogs from the US. Here in England it is really frowned upon - although certain teen groups use it. Had it started to become used more generally and by adults? I agree with your post and was so moved by the film. Words matter.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTilly

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