Wednesday, March 2, 2011
End the Use of the R Word
Today is National, "End the use of the R Word." My feelings around this word have changed much over the years. I'm sure as a kid I too used it as a word with power to hurt my enemies. It certainly wasn't talked about as being hurtful toward people who were diagnosed retarded when I was young. We hardly had any awareness training of people with disabilities. Sure there were a few kids who had "issues" or hearing loss or the one boy in the wheel chair. Those kids were just part of life for me in school and not much was spoken about them. We would have benefited from some training I'm sure, but I think the attitude was to not talk about them because it would hurt their feelings. The other similar word used as a weapon when I was young was BOCES. I never truly understood what it meant, that seems ironic in my life today. The first time I heard someone call Teale retarded my heart sank, I had never thought about her as retarded, just as a slow learner, developmentally delayed was the politically correct term always used to describe Teale. The person who used it to describe her had very little idea how I would react. She was our service coordinator at the time and she obviously thought I had been told this diagnosis many years earlier. The funny thing is, it was in a heated discussion with her that she said it. I was letting her go because of lack of support and care and she threw it out there like a child uses the word as a weapon. I wanted to strangle her, not only had she been a horrible service coordinator, but she was now calling my precious daughter a name I had never heard used before. My blood boiled and I attacked back, telling her no one has ever diagnosed Teale as retarded. I was angry and hurt that the one person who was supposed to be looking out for my daughter had no clue what her issues were. After the heat of this confrontation passed, I started researching the definition of retarded. The definition I could not dispute that fit Teale was an Intelligence Quotient score under 70. I started looking at the word differently, letting go my anger about how it was presented to me and realizing, it's just a word, it doesn't define my daughter. It is used to give information about her skills, just as "legally blind or has Cerebral Palsy" are used. Basically I changed my thinking about the R word and came to accept it as just part of who Teale is. I'll never accept the R word, but the fact that she has a low IQ, that I am past. I love that there are movements such as "End the Use of the R Word," we have all come far in accepting and living with children and adults like Teale in our everyday communities. She may have a low IQ, but she is a teacher to many.