I was born in 1978. I was 8 in the 80s. I have certainly called things, and people, retarded. I never once meant it as a compliment. Retard or Retarded has always been an insult in my lifetime.
Once a valid medical term, retarded means: less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age. The details vary, but the terms idiot, imbecile, and moron have also, at one time, been used as medical diagnoses for individuals with lower-than-the-norm IQs. Over time, these words became insulting slang terms, and fell out of favor with the medical community.
In fact, the intelligence quotient (or IQ) test has always bothered me. It’s a test, meant to give a number to your level of intellectual development. Think of it as a percentage. A 26 year old man with an IQ of 100, is considered to have the intellectual development of a 26 year old. Get it? A lower score denotes a lesser percentage of mental growth and therefore intelligence. Genius status starts at 135-140, depending on your source. What hubris to believe that there’s a one size fits all test for anything!
At some point in time, I grew up. I developed (no joke) to realize that words are very powerful and that they, not just sticks and stones, can hurt you. Ever heard of the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword?” Same idea.
In 2010, the American Medical Association did away with the diagnosis Mental Retardation in favor of Intellectual Disability, or Intellectually Impaired. All diagnosis, their codes, treatments, etc. are outlined in the DSM-IV (Fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), which is the healthcare bible. When the new DSM-V comes out, Mental Retardation (MR) will not be found.
Use of the word retard as a description for a person is no longer accepted. Even as a young boy, I don’t remember ever calling someone a retard in front of my mother. On some level, even back in 1985, I knew that such a move would not be well received. Anyway, since when do we call people by their diagnosis, anyway? You don’t mockingly call someone with a tumor “cancer.”
I bring this up now for two reasons: 1. Beth suggested I do a piece on “retarded” and 2. Jake qualifies. Suddenly, my son is “retarded.” He was good old Jake, lovable kid with a fun curiosity, killer sense of humor, acute love for his dogs, and then – pow! Retarded. It only took the one test. We were doing our triennial review, where we have check-ups with clinical pediatricians, developmental experts, therapists of every flavor, and we got our test results. Jake was finally able to participate in an IQ test enough to generate a realistic score.
The amazing part comes when the clinician, in hushed tones, revealed to us the news, and gave us THE CHOICE as to whether to accept it or not. Apologies and excuses were immediate: it wasn’t his best work, this test is flawed, etc., etc., etc. Here was the challenge for Beth and I. Would a rose by another name smell as sweet? (no rose is sweeter than my Jake) Would this label change anything about my child? (never) Would I love him less? (in what universe is that possible?)
My biggest concern would be that people would see the label, and use that information to lower the bar of expectation. I have no way to know if Jake will grow up, marry, be employed, and see every one of his dreams come true.
I do know that I don’t want the world to decide these things aren’t worth fighting for based on a test score.
We accepted the diagnosis under repeated reassurances that MR will soon be replaced by ID, or II. But how long until ID is the new “retarded?”
When we first started spreading the word on autism, people would inexplicably come to us and praise us for “taking him out.” I didn’t realize until then that there were probably generations of flappy, rocking, “retarded” kids who never saw public life. That fact alone makes me sick to my stomach. Jake is my son; I love him dearly; and I dare you to call him retarded in front of me. Furthermore, I dare you to call him retarded behind my back and have me find out.
Such language is disgraceful, disrespectful, and segregating. There’s even a large movement to remove the R-word from our lexicon. See http://www.r-word.org for the whole story. It’s a word that’s never uttered around my house; and my kids know better. Make sure yours do, too.