Repost: Everyone uses the word, what's your problem

This is from 2009, but I wanted to re-post it because today is "Spread the word to end the word" day.
Every time I hear somebody refer to Skyler as "retard" I die a little more inside.

Our-kids is a group of over 1000 people who all are people who are in one way or another in the special needs community. Most of us are parents, but there are teachers, doctors, therapists, siblings, and some are the person with the diagnosis.

It is a worldwide community, but most are from the United States. We benefit from having an international membership, because it can be quite interesting to hear about viewpoints or medical procedures that are going on in other countries.

Over the years, I have had faceless names become close friends, engaged in discussions about body functions you wouldn’t mention to your doctor, and gained a valuable sounding board for advice and ideas. I have grown to care about a lot of these people, and their lives as much as some of my own friends.

There has been a conversation going on lately that is all about one word. In our community of special needs, it is the word that nobody speaks, much like nobody in the rest of the world wants to say nigger. Instead the rest of the world usually says the N word. With us, the one word is retarded.

With a lot of words that get thrown around, you can use it in a context that makes it OK. The N word gets used with regularity on the BET channel with comedians, and gets big laughs. In my own community of people that I have come to know that use chairs to get around, they sometimes throw around the word cripple with regularity. It’s not a word I would ever use, but hearing it in the context of guys on a wheelchair basketball team throwing at each other with glee, it seems alright.

I have always been a person who looks not so much at the word but at the use of it, or the person using it. I have had some people ask me questions about Skyler, that have wondered how he became crippled, or used other terms that I don’t care for. But when the intent behind the words is not malicious, and they really care, it is easy to excuse somebody for not being up on what language is proper. And believe me, I can spot sincerity in a person versus someone who should know better a mile away.

So what is it about the word retarded that bothers us so much? That has been the question going around, and I wanted to try and give you an idea of how much it hurts to hear it, and where I come from when I do.

All through Skylers life there has been a constant need to try and label him. Maybe that is the way the school system works, or how society is, I don’t really know. But there seems to be an issue with leaving a kid who is different from the rest without some sort of a label to put on them. We don’t do it with other kids, so what is the point? And yet, we are constantly fighting the perception that since he can’t talk, and is in a chair, he certainly must have some sort of delays “just like all of our other special kids”.

That right there is the key phrase, “all of our other special kids”.

Like a lot of other kids that face some sort of a challenge, Skyler went through school with an IEP. This stands for Individual Education Plan, and is laughingly un-individual. Any kids who doesn’t fit the typical mold, well they all go down the hall to special ed, with the rest of the retarded children. Because Skyler can’t gift you with clever or instant conversation, he must be retarded. Because Skyler can’t tolerate the level of noise in a particular room due to his sensory integration problems, when he starts to cry, it must be because he is retarded.

And what do you hear in the halls of the school every day? Retard, used over and over, with it’s never ending suffix to any word, -tard. It has become like anything –gate used because of Watergate. Don’t like a particular group of people, or have an issue with a segment of society? Just append tard to it and it become an instant and handy insult that everyone can enjoy. And does this present a problem with anyone, staff, teachers, anybody in society who is in a position of authority? In my experience, no. Because they probably use the word themselves.

So the question becomes what to do about it? Certainly there are a lot more pressing matters in the world going on, and gee Chris, aren’t you being a bit touchy? Yes, and probably yes. But on the second point, I would invite you to take that proverbial mile long walk in my shoes, then reflect on whether or not I might be touchy.

Because as this video by Soeren Palumbo points out so much better than I have been able to, I wonder why we take the most vulnerable segment of our society and make fun of them?

And if any of this has touched you in any way, or made you reconsider how to remove retarded from your lexicon, than I am glad I spent the time to try and get the point across. And if you feel that just one person less using the word won't make a difference, consider this next video by Bob Blue, called Courage. Bob was a middle school teacher as well as a singer and song writer, who came up with this song as a way to try and teach his kids about how just going along with the rest can't be used as an excuse.

Thank you so much for reading this, and don't worry, the silly stuff will return soon,
Chris (Sky-Dad)


  1. Excellent post Chris, and two beautiful videos. I especially like the HS speech. I wish I could give that kid a big {{{HUG}}}! What an excellent teaching tool; I will be sharing this video for sure. I would guess that most people - who haven't been effected in some way by a child or individual with a developmental disability - probably haven't really given the "R" word much thought. But as much as we might try not to be overly sensitive it does go against the grain and can be down-right hurtful at times. Thanks for sharing and teaching.

  2. My daughter introduced me to a Facebook group called 'The R-word'. A retired school administrator that is now volunteering in the Special Olympics came into school and introduced the kids to the group. She also had t-shirts that spread the word. It was so cool. They had a pledge day where kids could pledge to not use the word. My kid nagged me to make sure I made the pledge... which I failed to get done on the day it was to be done. :-(

    I will be honest, from time to time the word slips out when I talk, with ZERO thought for the issues at hand. I'm not proud of me, but I'm proud to say that when it does, my kids are the first to admonish me. (They don't say boo when I throw the F-bomb around...)

    Great post, Chris. Check out the Facebook group!

  3. Awww, Sky Dad, this was really beautiful and touching, especially the boy giving the speech. WOW!!

  4. Hi Skylar's Dad - Saw your comments on Help in a Handbag and decided to check your blog out. I think this is a great post and you seem like a terrific Dad. Good for you for posting this. I have a cousin with CP and I'm sure that people put this label on him too, and it breaks my heart to think about it, really. He is such a funny, sweet boy who brings so much joy to our family, as I'm sure Skylar does yours. I am so with ya.
    See you around.

  5. Thanks for the post, S.D. I don't really have anything to add. You've said it all.

  6. Man, now I feel like a re-ject.

    And if we change the word to the more accurate "celebuturd", would that be better or too derivative?

  7. Thanks for writing this. I wrote something before, that was probably a bit to long and it got deleted. I think because I sat on it too long before hitting "publish." But thanks again for writing this.


    Sometimes it just takes a little understanding to make a change.

    Nice work Sky's Dad

  9. Beautiful speech! One person at a time is all it takes to make the changes that are so desperately needed.

    Skyler is incredibly lucky to have a dad like you. It shows in your posts and in all of the pics you post of him.

  10. You have mentioned your distaste for this word in a previous post and after reading it, I swore I would never use this word again. If you were looking to change just one person, brother pat yourself on the back, because you changed me!


  11. I feel the same way about the word "gay". I love this new commercial about the subject- it's the same principal. I understand some people think the world is getting overly PC, but these are two instances when that is decidedly not the case- it's just ignorant and offensive.

  12. D*mn you Chris, you made me cry. I couldn't get the first video, but the second one should be mandatory for all kids in school to watch. That girl had the voice of an angel, too.
    When I was in high school, there was a "special" kid named Leopold who was constantly put down by the other kids. Then one day, he came in to school with a guitar, and played softly for the class while the rest of us studied. That experience turned a few minds around, but not all. I don't know why I thought of it just now, but I think it's a shame when some kids can't see the whole package in others.

  13. There are limits to how sensitive I can be, but there is a list of words that I do my best to stay away from. The R-word is way up on that list. It bugs me to see it used so casually.

  14. I didn't have anything great and thoughtful to say...but thought I'd leave my mark just so you know I read it.

    Much love to you and your wife and son!

  15. Wow Chris...very poignant post. I felt it to the bone as I must admit I have used the word "retard" in sentences where it does not belong. Never to someones face and not maliciously, but now more than ever I will think before I use words that should not be used in that context or in a derogatory manner. The videos are great eye openers. Thanks!

  16. Being a feminist, I am frequently accused of being too PC, or not having a sense of humor, especially when I roll my eyes at, for example, commercial parodies that portray women as only being interested in housework and blow jobs.

    I think it is important to constantly question when a certain word is truly appropriate, and when you trading on stereotypes because your modes of expression are based on mental laziness or just plain meanness.

    Some groups are now advocating that the word "retard" be bleeped on television. More censorship is not the answer. What we need to do is to develop media that allow us to learn about and experience the lives of people like Skylar, because with understanding comes kindness and empathy.

    So, SkyDad, by discussing your experiences in a public forum you are doing exactly what needs to be done. Does Skylar's school invite their students to visit websites or view media that gives them information about the issues that are affecting Skylar? Because they should.

  17. wow, consider that word gone from my vocab, humbling.

  18. I was guilty as charged until I thought about it one day and decided I needed to stop saying it. Of course, I never used it except in silliness, but still.

    Great post, I love hearing about the challenges you continue to face being Skyler's parent.

  19. Excellent post, SkyDad.

    Here's another one for you:

  20. Thank you Chris. I too hate this word - it gives me the same cold sweat and cringing feeling as the word that begins with "N" which I cannot even type.

    When my big brother was starting school, there was no integration of special needs children in our district. Robbie is deaf. As a result, he went to Gompers and a chain link fence separated their "playground" from ours (I was at Simis). We would meet at the chain link fence and visit at recess because I was shy and he was my hero.

    I remember my teacher making a comment about me hanging out at the fence and that I probably shouldn't because those children (and I quote), "are retarded and can be volatile".

    OMG. I was in the 4th grade and asked to go to the nurse because I was sick. At 9 years old I knew the word was hateful and demeaning and WRONG.

    This post made me cry... and call my brother, Robbie to tell him I love him (via CapTel of course).

  21. I remember this post. And I remember how the other kids used to call me a "retard" in Kindergarten because I had a British accent and they couldn't understand what I was saying. Ignorant jerks. :-(

    By the way, where have you been?! I miss you in Blog World. It's not the same without you.

  22. I'm guilty of tacking on the "tard" suffix to "celeb." But I think the word's meaning has become something else entirely over time, in that a lot of people don't even equate it with people with special needs anymore. I suppose that doesn't take away the negative feelings associated with it from years of abuse, though.

  23. Anonymous9:09 AM

    Thank you for writing this. It touched on so many of the feelings that I have when I have a certain word spat at me. I hate hearing it on TV, in jokes, and yes, sometimes I have to tolerate those people who are very sincere, but just don't know that the M-word is not cool. Even when we do find the courage to speak out against hurtful words, you are spot on in describing the reactions we get: "It's just a joke. Don't be so uptight. Don't you have better things to worry about etc, etc. "
    Anyway, I don't want to take away from your experience, I just wanted to say that I totally, totally understand this. In solidarity. - G.


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