Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

The R Word


How do you feel when you hear the word “retarded”? I am wondering if others have the same reaction that I do, because I cringe. As the mother of a child with unique needs, I am more sensitive about that word than some others might be. What people don’t realize is that, while it may be unintentional, they are negatively labeling individuals with developmental disabilities as stupid, which is hurtful and demeaning.

When I confront people about it, they said that they are using the term to mean “stupid” rather than representing those with intellectual disabilities. But I would like to think that if people were aware of how harmful using that word the way they do can be, they wouldn’t use it at all.

My first experience with someone using that word to describe my daughter was a behavioral pediatrician. The doctor asked me where I thought my daughter was developmentally. I said I wasn’t sure and it really didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want this information to change my opinion or expectations of Gabrielle. When the physician blurted out that my daughter was “retarded,” his delivery was brash, insensitive and cruel. I was shocked. Weren’t developmental disabilities his specialty? He should have been more compassionate and empathetic.

Needless to say, we never returned to see him.

At the doctor’s office, on the playground, in the movies, I repeatedly hear this word used in a hurtful way. But we can make a difference. Children and adults alike can advocate eliminating the “R” word from our vocabularies, and call out those who use it in front of us. By doing so, we are encouraging and building individuals up rather than tearing them down.

And if we’ve got to use an “R” word, how about “respect”? For everyone, no matter their abilities.

3 thoughts on “The R Word

  1. bravo!

  2. I agree with you 100% and am SO glad you left that doctor in the dust!

    I also despise the use of “gay” to mean lame or stupid, and the use of “depressed” to mean down because you didn’t have time to go shopping (or any other use that demeans what depressed people really go through).

    This is a battle worth fighting-keep up the fight!

  3. Hello. Thank you for reading. I appreciate your words of encouragement.