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Readin', 'Ritin', 'Rithmetic, and . . . Respect?

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by , 02-16-2010 at 01:52 AM (1894 Views)
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Today's post is brought to you by the letter R! Homeschool parents are usually very concerned about teaching the classic three . . . readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic. Most include lessons on the fourth R, "respect", casually, as a natural part of parenting their children. Some utilize a homeschool program that teaches respect as part of its health curriculum. This post concerns respecting the individuals behind still another R-word that has made headlines lately.

Almost every day, my Inbox contains at least one email encouraging me to sign a petition to Ban the R-Word. Until recent weeks, many people didn't know what "the R-word" referred to. Now, with several prominent political figures either using the word or talking about the use of the word, almost everyone realizes it's a polite way to say "retarded" and similar derivatives.

Although my necessary use of the actual words might cause some who are already sensitive to this issue to cringe, as mother of a five-year-old with Down syndrome, I can't resist commenting on the controversy.

There are two similar R-words, and I have different feelings about each of them. There is no nice way to say "retard". Using your kindest tone of voice, try using that word in any context. Words such as "retard" (or "spaz", which I know hurts our family friend with cerebral palsy) are offensive name-calling, plain and simple, and my own children have been taught not to say them.

But I'm not offended by the term "mentally retarded", when used to explain an individual's challenges. I sometimes say it myself because there are still people who don't know what Down syndrome is. Unless you work in the fields of medicine or education, you may not know the politically correct term for mental retardation is now "developmentally delayed". Besides being a mouthful to spit out, if I tell someone my son is "developmentally delayed", they usually give me a blank stare. "Mentally retarded" is an accurate term that needs no explanation.

Many who have family or friends with developmental delays prefer that term because "retarded" has such negative connotations. They want to see "the R-word" eliminated entirely, even when used to appropriately refer to an individual's medical diagnosis.

The sad reality is that, no matter WHAT term is used to refer to people like my son, there are those who will misuse it. If the term "developmentally delayed" replaces "mentally retarded" in the general population, the same people who conk their heads and say, "I am sooo retarded," when they make a mistake or label an unwise suggestion a "retarded idea" will slowly begin using the new term too.

Instead of constantly changing the acceptable terminology, let's teach our children to avoid using ANY words in a disrespectful way. One of my children once made a mistake while reading and joked, “I must be dyslexic!” I had to ask, “Would you have said that if someone whom you knew had that particular learning disability was in the room?”

If you have a legitimate reason to discuss my son's extra chromosome, saying he is mentally retarded isn't going to offend me. Any use of the word "retard" causes me to show my claws. Referring to someone's idea as "retarded" might prompt me to point out the inaccuracy of your statement. My son has come up with some BRILLIANT ideas to compensate for the challenges he faces.

People who continue to use offensive terminology after being made aware that it’s offensive usually fall into two groups. There are those who have their own message to present and choose to do so by being deliberately offensive; and, there are those who feel the offended parties are overly sensitive or without a sense of humor. I try to teach my children to adopt a “Do unto others . . . “ attitude. We don’t deliberately offend and we don’t judge someone’s right to be offended. If it’s within our power, we simply avoid doing or saying things that make others feel disrespected.

Homeschoolers, as a group, do a great job of teaching respect! What opportunities have you found to teach your children about the additional R?

Updated 02-16-2010 at 11:12 AM by hearthstone_academy



  1. Yca's Avatar
    i have to thank you for writing such a personal piece, and i wanted to share with you my experience from a standpoint of not having to deal with the "r-word" very often. i have recently come across a situation that has caused me to stumble and flounder for words, and i don't mind admitting it. you know, when we were growing up, "retarded" WAS the politically correct term for any kind of non-physical disability. it was perfectly acceptable to lump everyone in to one big group. it took me a long time to stop using that term and be specific - i went for a long time using the name of the specific "disorder" so as not to stumble into offensive-land. but what happens if it is not a specific problem? this is where i usually end up putting my foot in my mouth. i know, i know ... it is soooo hard to imagine ME putting my foot in my mouth, right?? lol but i've seen other parents doing it too ... parents like me who don't have children with bigger issues of assorted variety.

    my cousin's daughter was born when i was 5 years old. at birth, the cord was wrapped around her neck and she was deprived of oxygen for several minutes. she is now "developmentally delayed". to my knowledge, my cousin had never used a more specific diagnosis for her challenges. my cousin was told that her daughter wouldn't live past her second birthday. she is now 27 years old and has the mental, physical and social abilities of your average five year old. she is sweet as all get out. and she's dying. she's been having problems with her heart and for the past week has been in the icu on a feeding tube and other associated equipment. when giving updates on her, i've left that part out. not out of embarassment ... but more out of editing for time. (which i have now used a lot of, ironically)

    it is time we all become more educated on using the r-word and give each other a little more Respect. if you don't know, ask. i have found most parents are really open to discussing - and educating - people on their children. thank you again, kelly, for being one of the parents that doesn't mind "setting us straight" lol. you are a wonderful mom!!