Our Five Ring Circus: Retarded {Why We Hope This Word Makes You Cringe}

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Retarded {Why We Hope This Word Makes You Cringe}

I hope the first word in the title of this post caught your attention. Even more so, I hope that word made you cringe. It SHOULD.

The old saying goes, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." But the truth is words can hurt very much.

Today is a day to Spread the Word to End the Word.  More specifically, the "r" word.


I come from a generation that casually tossed the word "retarded" around.  I'm ashamed to admit that I said it as a child and didn't even think about what it truly meant.

Now I'm the parent of a child who has Down syndrome and I cringe when others toss that word around so casually. It's a habit that's hard to break, but it still happens. When it happens, an awkward silence always follows.  I like that awkward silence.  If someone feels awkward, it means that they know they did something wrong, and perhaps will reconsider saying it again!

I know that one day we will face that inevitable moment when someone actually calls Liam the dreaded  r-word. I've thought over the situation, and I'm not quite sure how I will react.  Will I be angry or defensive, or will I simply cry from how much it hurts? I don't know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that I love my son fiercely. He is so much more than an "r" word. I will love my son for them.  I will love Liam with every ounce of my being for all of those people who can't or refuse to love those who are different.  I will love Liam for all those people who consider him a "retard." And I will feel sorry for them because they simply don't have the capacity to love unconditionally.


Even though I will one day face that battle, the truth is I shouldn't have to hear the word said so casually in everyday life. People argue that it's just a word and that it doesn't mean anything.  They get defensive and say "freedom of speech" and "it's a medical term." But let me tell you this: most medical professionals don't even use that word anymore. It's called PROGRESS. And yes, freedom of speech is very important. But speaking with respect is even more important.  

If you are someone who tosses the "r" word around casually, I get it. I understand it's ingrained in your brain and that it's a hard habit to break. I'm not going to immediately scold you. But PLEASE think before you speak.  Words can have a huge impact on those around you.

If my words didn't quite convince you, please read this post by my friend, Kelly. She sums up the use of the "r" word and how it feels to hear the word so well. I met Kelly and her beautiful family after Liam was born. When she posted this on Facebook during Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I knew I wanted to use her words in a post. If you choose to read anything at all, read #6 and then decide how you feel.

Meet Kelly's unbelievably adorable son, Donovan.


Here's what Kelly has to say about the "r" word:

The word retard (retarded or any version of) has a HUGE impact on a person when they know and love someone with an intellectual disability. So, please, whether you use the r-word or not, please just read:

I have been "unfriended" and blocked and argued with over this thing I feel passionate about. I will always #choosekindness when I defend my son and others with disabilities.

To those who help educate and do not use the word themselves, thank you. Please keep fighting the good fight.

To those who used to use the word in the past, but now from knowing Donovan and having it pointed out to you that it's hurtful, thank you for your compassion, understanding, and awareness.

To those who use it and think it is no big deal, and you "don't mean it THAT way" PLEASE don't ignore this, just hear me out one more time:

1. Right away some of you become offended by me asking you to stop using the r-word and you begin to defend your actions. I get that your pride sends you right into "fight & defend mode" if someone disagrees with you. But, someone you know (me) has told you how it affects them and their family, so just out of respect for that person (me), couldn't you just be empathetic and simply stop using it ....at the very least stop using it around that person (me)? Or even stop using it altogether? Could you stop for a minute and actually listen to the other side of the argument?

2. Many have told me "You're too sensitive to it." YES, yes I am. Aren't most parents sensitive when it comes to protecting their kids...especially from being mocked and made fun of?


3. I've been told several times "I don't mean YOUR SON." Okay, good. How, just exactly, DID you mean it? Please, answer! I'm sure you didn't mean "stop being a retard" to mean to "stop being an adorable 3 1/2 year old boy who will melt you with his smile"...we all know that's not true. Everyone knows what you "meant"...you MEANT to "stop acting like a person who is different, slow, not as perfect as you must be"...maybe you didn't say, "stop being Donovan" but the "retard" you speak of is SOMEONE with an intellectual disability and you ARE making fun of the disability.

4. You argue: "It's a medical term." Ohhh...I see. So "the game last night was retarded" means "the game last night was a sub-average intellectual ability equivalent to or less than an IQ of 70 that is accompanied by significant deficits in abilities (as in communication or self-care) necessary for independent daily living, is present from birth or infancy, and is manifested especially by delayed or abnormal development, by learning difficulties, and by problems in social adjustment." I totally see how that medical term applies here (insert sarcastic tone).

5. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed legislation requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government. The measure known as Rosa’s Law was approved unanimously by Congress before receiving the go-ahead from the president. Your use of the word, in slang, from the playground in your childhood is outdated and politically incorrect. You use it out of habit, freely without giving thought to it and "meaning it THAT way". I am telling you, it was hurtful then AND it is hurtful now. You sound very uneducated and far from intelligent when you use it. And, you sound like a mean and inconsiderate person. I don't think that is what you "mean" to have happen.

6. If you can honestly, truly argue any one of your reasons & justify your use of the r-word, I have a CHALLENGE for you: Hold my son in your arms and say those exact words that you feel so strongly about. Hold him and say, "That outfit is retarded" or simply stand with ANY person who has an intellectual disability and their loved ones and say, "Stop being a retard." IF you can do that and not feel a small, even tiny, twinge of guilt or embarrassment and you can do it with ease then I guess I am wrong.


7. Over the years, the carefree use of this word in everyday language has become so common. It has been overlooked as offensive. But, as a society, we've made good progress. R-word users are becoming the minority. Using the word is wrong. More and more people are finally speaking up and educating and letting others know that it IS hurtful and politically incorrect. Change is as easy as simply choosing another word. There are so many to choose from: absurd, uncool, childish, irrational, idiot, jerk, ridiculous, dull, trivial, irresponsible, pointless.....the list goes on. Just-simply-choose-a-different-word.

8. I am happy to say that MOST of the people in my life who used the r-word before have genuinely apologized and have stopped using it. Apologies are not necessary! The heart-felt sincerity and understanding is plenty!! The world is better for that! Maybe if you do decide to stop using the word too, maybe you can join in being an advocate and in educating others too. Truth is, we don't always get the result we hoped for. But you can hold your head high knowing that you made an effort to stop the use of a senseless, hurtful word.....and you #choosekindness.

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read today's post. Thank you even more for thinking a little about what I've said.


Thank you, Kelly, for being willing to share your heartfelt post on my blog. Your words are so powerful and I'm certain they made others stop and think!

Please, on this day, make a pledge to stop using the "r" word. Donovan and Liam and all of those who are rocking an extra chromosome thank you!

 Spread the word to end the word



  1. Great post! I had a friend growing up who had someone living in their home who was severely mentally handicapped so it definitely brought to my attention the importance and hurt that can be associated with that word

    1. Thank you! I really don't think people realize that what they are saying hurts others. To them it's just a word. I used to feel uncomfortable about speaking up about it, but I finally reached the point where I realized some people just won't understand until it's mentioned.

  2. My generation did throw around this word when we were younger, but I still remember in college when I took a journalism class and someone said that to the professor about something they didn't like. The professor laid into him and said no journalist would write that word or use it in his speech, if he was trying to be a good journalist. It stuck with me to this day. - Katy

    1. That is a very good point! I'm sure that person thought twice before they said it again!

  3. I wish that my generation didn't use this word as much as they do. It was widely popular when I was younger and it breaks my heart when I think of the after effects of it. No one should be called that. Thank you for reminding everyone about this.

    1. It was for my generation, too. That's why it's so hard right now. Quite a few of our friends slip up. They don't mean to, but like I mentioned, the awkward silence that follows is good enough!

  4. This is a great post and thank you for this reminder! I unfortunately was part of that generation too where people too frequently used that word, and I for one have never liked it. In my house even the word stupid is a bad word, and I'm trying hard to teach my children to be careful what they say. Donovan and Liam are so precious!

    1. Thank you so much, Cara! It's something you truly don't think about until you're older. My older kids never said the word, but I do correct their friends who say it.

  5. I am grateful that my mother never let us use this word. I think parents SHOULD be sensitive about how their children are discussed, described, and portrayed. That's part of our job!

    1. I completely agree, but it really does seem like many parents let it slide!

  6. Great post and Bravo for scolding people! This is a bad word. You're an amazing Mom!

    1. Awwww! Thank you so much! I am so thankful to know so many mama bears like Kelly!

  7. Ugh, this word has always made me cringe. I can remember back in junior high when all of the boys used to call everybody that and it made me so sad. I'm glad that everyone is raising awareness to stop the use of this word!

  8. I used to have so much trouble speaking up, but I realized that most people don't even think about what they're saying. Maybe if one person says something, it will make them think twice before saying it again!

  9. I hate that word so much. I hope that it's one that is never ever in either of my children's vocabulary. I know they will hear it from someone at school, on the bus, or out in public, but I hope they never actually say it. It's a word that is so ridiculous and shouldn't be used to describe anyone. Ugh!

    1. You're a great mom! I know there are outside influences, but you are a great role model. There are so many parents who just don't care or just don't correct. That's what drives me crazy!


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