Retarded, Take Two

Hi. It’s been a while.

I just wanted to introduce and discuss a conversation I had with a psychology major (friend) about the use of the word retarded. I also wanted to discuss the new wording. It sounds disjointed but I promise there’s a connection between them! And as a teaser: I have started a post on race and although I am focusing on one aspect of racism, IT’S A DOOZY. (In APRIL was the last time I tried to write it!) Particularly a doozy because of some current-ish events, which is why it’s been since April that I was writing. Also, I will need my notes, which are not at the house I am currently staying. So watchouteverybody, I’m getting on a new roll! (Once I find those notes in the pile of boxes I have at my mom’s… drat!)

Not very long after my post about the R-word, my psychology majored friend was arguing about it on facebook. I think she made a good point, so I’ll talk about it. She claimed that the problem with the word retarded is that it was not being used in the proper way. People use it to call each other stupid, when the word retarded actually means slowed. She felt that instead of banning the word- which she felt just made the problem worse- we should be using it correctly. “My learning in U.S. History is more retarded than my peers.”

No offense, friend, but NO. I completely disagreed with her point of view. Not because it isn’t valid, but because I don’t see preteen (excuse me, tween) boys thinking that the usage there means slowed down. I see them thinking “She’s stupid in U. S. History.” Thanks, tweenie boys! But I meant to say that it takes me a longer time to learn the things I can learn. So just a slower version of everyone else learning U. S. History.

I was going to say more on the subject of the word retarded, but dang it if the DSM-V tripped me over all my ideas. The problem with the r-word exists, but now it’ll be more difficult to remedy. BECAUSE THEY CHANGED THE VOCABULARY FOR MENTAL RETARDATION. Seriously, guys? I realize I only have a BA in music and prerequisites for OT (I’m applying this year! Woohoo!) but I KNOW THINGS. Lots and lots of things. And I’m not okay with the change.

For one- intellectual disability? What the f*ck does that even mean? Intellectual disability! My dad, stepmom and I were flabbergasted for the same reasons. (They’re a psychiatrist and social worker, respectively and have more legitimate say in it than I do) Mental retardation means slower brain function. Intellectual disability…. disabled in the brain? Seriously, MDs and PhDs of the world??? That’s all you can give me??? Like that actually helps the stigma!

Some claim it will help with the use of retarded. I can see some misinformed docs right now! “If we don’t call them mentally retarded, the word retarded will not be used against them in a derogatory way! Everything will be fixed!” No. Everything will not be fixed.

No. 1! Sorry tween boys, but you’re the biggest offender where I live. I’m totally generalizing and stereotyping every other guy here for effect-you can yell at me later. Ahem! But No. 1! Tween boys will still refer to people as retarded, act like they have CP, and refer to those with “intellectual disabilities” mental retardation derogatorily anyway.

No. 2! Just as with people with Aspberger’s, many with MR will refer to themselves in the same way. So your idea is moot there, too. (don’t know if I used the word moot correctly, but I’m too fired up to care.)

No. 3! By changing the name, I feel we’re telling those with MR that we’ve given up on fighting for them. I feel that we are just taking the unsuccessful route because it’s easier. I don’t want to be that kind of person. Dear people with MR: I will keep fighting for you! Even when the word retarded turns into the words imbecile and idiot (Those two used to be psychological words too!) in 50 years and people find another way to make fun of you.


The R word is retarded: A look at Down’s Syndrome

There’s an unfortunate trend right now in society where instead of calling people stupid, they say retarded. For those who don’t know, mental retardation actually means that the brain learns more slowly. However, many people with mental retardation are able to function quite well in society. I know of a man who had MR and lived by himself in an apartment and had a pet cat, just like any normal human being.

The reason I bring up MR is that I work with people with developmental disabilities. This includes those with Downs. Down’s Syndrome is a genetic disease: people with it have an extra 21st chromosome. They tend to have small eyes that are closer together, long torsos but short legs, and problems with their back, hips, and knees. There are a lot more symptoms, but I’m focusing on the visual aspects for one reason: We can look at them, know that they are mentally retarded, and be prejudiced because of it.

I’m going to talk about a woman with Down’s. Let’s call her Pam. Compared with her peers (who also have Down’s), Pam is less able mentally. She takes a longer time than two others in her house to do simple tasks and to learn new things. She is illiterate. Not only does Pam have Down’s, she is less “smart” than her peers.

“But Megan!” You say, “Megan! Aren’t you against using the r word and prejudice???” Yes. Yes I am. Which is why this story was so powerful to me. So keep reading, dammit.


Pam has a habit of repeating questions. One of my favorites is “How are you?!” and I say “I’m GREAT! How are you?!” She answers, “I’m great, how are you?!” until one of us stops. It’s the best. Anyways, one of the ones she repeats is “She’s smart, right?” And I always answer “Yes, Pam. She’s smart.”

One day, I changed my answer. She asked me if I’m smart, and I answered “Yes I am. You’re smart, right?”
Her answer broke my heart.

“I don’t think so!”

I don’t think so. Even being the “dumbest” woman in her house, Pam knows. She KNOWS there’s something different about her, something “bad”. She knows. And it affects her.

Pam has nieces that tell her she’s retarded. They see it as a joke, but it isn’t for her. Pam gets tweens making fun of her, and she looks ashamed of herself. Children stare, and she looks uncomfortable. Even the most “retarded” person knows what people say and is affected by prejudice.

Pam is a beautiful person. All the people I work with are beautiful. And no matter what, they know what you’re saying. They know when you’re making fun of them and staring, or treating them differently. With one look, you know they have Down’s and can guess their problems in life. You know they are mentally retarded and are judged for it.

Going out into the world with Down’s Syndrome is hard enough. Pam gets frustrated when she’s unable to learn as quickly as others around her, and she is constantly learning the same things over and over again.  People think they know her because they know Down’s Syndrome. They don’t.

I get so angry towards people about this subject, so I’m going to have to stop here. But I have one last thing to say: Saying retard? It’s retarded.