It’s called “respect.”
That other word, the one you throw around like it’s nothing and surely it won’t stick to the person you’re labelling in a I am-rubber-you-are-glue sort of way?
Get rid of it.
Even if I didn’t have a little boy who was recently diagnosed with a Mild Intellectual Disability, on top of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I would be taking the time to write this blog.
Think of the last person you came into contact with – in the store, on the bus – who seemed to be lost in his (or her) own world, perhaps he (or she) was stimming in some way – fidgety; finger-picking; humming; rocking back and forth – or possibly, they were doing nothing. Seemingly unreachable. Mute. Non-verbal. I can assure you, from the vantage of 10 years watching my son – who wasn’t supposed to survive his infancy and who to this day functions a year or two behind his same-age peers - that the person you are dismissing as a “retard,” a ”vegetable,” understands every word you say. Some hide their immediate reaction better than others. But they know exactly what you said, and that it isn’t in the slightest measure complimentary.
I’ve always said that if I ever caught anyone assaulting any of my children, verbally or physically, they’d better know I can run faster angry than they can scared. That’s the Mama Bear in me. The mama who worries about her disabled boys as they inch ever closer towards adulthood. The mama who knows that even in the year 2013, her teenager with Asperger Syndrome is one ill-timed, unfiltered comment away from – at worst - being savagely beaten, or even killed. The mama who wishes that more people understood that Nancy Lanza – as indubitably misguided as her decision was to keep armed rifles and assault weapons in her home – was as much a victim of her son’s massacre as the 26 people who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and who maybe even deserves to be remembered as someone who I sincerely believe tried her best to avail herself and her son of what “support” was readily available to them, so that she could integrate him into the so-called “normal” world.
It’s hard-going when the odds seem stacked against you, as a parent. I’ve fought back my own sadness, albeit not always successfully, watching my 10-year-old son descend into depression and tears because, outside of the schoolyard where the other children in his grade are coaxed and wheedled into engaging with him on a social level, he has no playmates, no BFF’s, save for his twin sister and their 9-year-old cousin, who also has ADHD and a learning disability. When my teenage son has had enough of the stimming and tantrums and perserverations of his younger sibling, unfortunately the other R word comes flying out of his mouth like an untangled mess of inflamed paper streamers. And why wouldn’t he, when he sees it posted on a near-daily basis on his Facebook wall and those of his “friends,” in reference to him and his own (often pitiful) efforts to reach out and be accepted. To borrow and flip around a lyric from Whitney Houston: It ain’t right, so why is it still okay?
We absolutely must find better words, or better yet, not use negative, demeaning language at all when speaking about other people, regardless of their (dis)abilities.
Courtesy, respect, dignity. These are good, strong words. Nourishing and important. Why not choose to live by them instead? Not just today, but every day.