That word.

That word is back in the news. Periodically someone famous lets it slip in public, gets skewered (rightfully) by angry families, friends and self advocates, apologizes and then we the rest of the world moves on until the next time.

We…we don’t get to move on because, while the rest of you folks feel better if there was an apology from the most recent famous offender, we still hear it. Almost every day it seems at times. From a high school classmate on Facebook, from a co-worker, from a family member, from other parents, from random people in the aisles at Target, from ER admissions workers, from those stupid “joke” pictures on Pinterest because obviously it’s so funny to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities.

It is literally everywhere we turn, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been watching television and had it just thrown in my face….hahahaha…cut out my heart. AND, for those apologists who also seem to pop up every time there is another high profile usage of it, we aren’t being oversensitive…there is no such thing as oversensitive when it comes to people making fun of your child or another child like him.

I wrote this note to the high school aged friends of some of my favorite people nearly two years ago because it finally dawned on me that while “adults” who are using this word may be a lost cause (though, I really, really hope not!) the next generation can do so much better…if only they stop and think.

Don’t mind me; I’ve got something I’d like to say to your friends…

I’m Melissa, Christina/Jenica/Kaitlyn/Kaitlin/Kevin/Maranda/Samantha’s friend/cousin/aunt/aunt/aunt/friend/aunt, and I have a son who is almost 7 years old. His name is Caleb and he is probably the cutest kid to ever walk this earth. OK, maybe not, but he’s my ONLY child and I’m required by law to think it just like your parents’ think this of you (even when you’re jerks, btw.) Caleb is a sweet, loving little boy and he happens to have Fragile X Syndrome.

You probably haven’t heard of it before, lots of people haven’t even though Fragile X Syndrome is the most common cause of inherited mental impairment and the most common known genetic cause of autism. (If you ever have a science project to do you should check it out, it’s a great topic, http://www.fragilex.org is a good place to start.)

Anyway, besides being extremely cute, incredibly sweet and having Fragile X Syndrome, Caleb also has intellectual disabilities. Did you know that by casually using the word “retard(ed)” to refer to an action as less than ideal you are making someone with an intellectual disability feel less than human? Often, the word is also used casually to denote behavior that is clumsy, stupid and even hopeless. The word conjures up a painful stereotype of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It hurts. Even if you don’t mean it that way.

I’m asking each of you to take a stand and raise awareness of the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the words “retard” or “retarded” and encourage others to think before they speak. Please take the pledge and join the R-Word campaign at http://www.r-word.org/Default.aspx.

I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

That is all and thanks 🙂

The fact that Jenica tracked this note down this week and shared it with her Facebook friends now that she is in college gives me hope because the next generation is already doing better.

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