Use your words

Today is the fifth annual Spread the Word to End the Word day to end the use of the word “retard,” a campaign started by the Special Olympics.

Ellen Seidman, who often writes about being a parent of a special needs kid, wrote this post, published on the HuffPost Parents page today, that calls for awareness to end the use of the “R-word” and why it is important. It seems that even though this campaign has been going for five years, people still do not understand that it’s actually a very big deal to a large subset of parents and their children. Maybe they think it’s no big deal because it doesn’t affect them. Maybe they think it’s just a word and so prevalent in slang and conversation for so long that it doesn’t hold any true power. Maybe they don’t understand that the medical community does not use the word “mental retardation” any longer. It’s not a technical term still in use. It’s only slang and it’s only used in a derogatory manner.

But we’re parents. We are the grown ups. We lead the way. And we need to understand. If we don’t understand, we can’t teach our children well.

So here’s the thing: there is not a parent anywhere who can say that his or her child is in every way perfect, strong, talented, and invulnerable. Every child — every single one — has strengths; every child — every single one — has weaknesses. What is your child’s weakness? What is your child’s own special need? Consider if someone called your child a “retard” because of his or her weakness. Because every single child is slower or weaker in some area or skill, children are all, in effect, “retards” in some area — including yours. How does it feel to think of your child as a “retard?” Can you imagine someone calling your child that word? Can you imagine your child moving through life with that particular social label?

You know better, and now you must do better. Lead by example by using your vocabulary. Don’t use the R-word, and don’t let your children use the R-word. I was raised with this word in my own slang dictionary, and I admit it is hard to extinguish — but it is absolutely, positively necessary. Teach your children about other R-words, like responsibility and role-modeling, instead. Spread the word to end the word. It’s time.



  1. Great post. Thank you. I have for children, two who have special needs, one of which I am certain most uneducated people would refer to using the “r word” (can’t even bring myself to type it). He is not, but I can understand the misconception. Honestly, when I hear the word, I literally cringe. It’s really not a word I’ve ever used, but now it is something that hurts. I try not to judge people who use it, because I think most really, truly don’t get it. But it does bother me that racial or religious terms that are considered a no-no, everyone’s quick to get on board with “you can’t say that.” But with this word, we’re all supposed to relax, because of course “they don’t really mean it.” Kudos to Ellen Seidman, as well, for her wonderful article!

  2. I’m so glad that you’re lending your voice to this important campaign.
    It makes me sad though, that 5 years in, that this campaign still has to continue. How long before people get the message?

  3. Well said. Thank you.

  4. So glad I found you over at Scary Mommy. I’m on the hunt for well written blogs. They are few and far between.

    Thanks for adding your voice to an important issue.

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