Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The "R" Word

Until recently, I never was really sensitive about the language people use.  Sure, I didn't want people swearing around my kid.  I've been known to swear quite a bit under pressure, just ask Brian.  I'm nowhere near "the Old Man" in A Christmas Story, but sometimes a swear word seems like the only appropriate thing to say in certain situations.

There is one word that I have gotten a bit sensitive to in the past year.  It's the "R" word.  I'm sorry if you need clarification, but I'm not typing it out for you.

I started feeling sensitive about that word when I started to know that something was wrong with Jack.  Early on, we still felt confident that Jack didn't have cognitive deficits.  I mean, he couldn't, right?  He was my kid.  Me, the person who started reading at the age of two, I couldn't have a kid with a cognitive deficit, could I?

I was wrong.  I knew it, too.  He could, and did, have a cognitive delay.  When he later was placed on the spectrum, I feared that would mean his cognitive delay would one day mean an intellectual impairment.  Now that I know more about autism, I know that this isn't the case for many individuals on the spectrum.

Jack's therapists fully expect him to lose his cognitive deficit once he has the receptive and expressive language, plus the social skills, to perform appropriately in cognitive assessments.  Unfortunately, most standardized tests assume two things, a) that the person being assessed has receptive language (can understand what's being asked), and b) that the person being assessed can engage a clinician in the interaction required for such an assessment.  You can see how this works against a non-verbal autistic person.

When Jack tested as having a cognitive deficit and, later, when he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, I couldn't help but pick up on when people used the "R" word in conversation.  It's become a term that is very ingrained in our culture and conversation.  It's become an all-inclusive term for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It's also become a term that we use to describe anything that is "stupid", "dumb", or any number of other derogatory labels.

It appears in TV, movies, and, saddest of all, on our playgrounds, in our parks, and our schools.  Children who say this word learn it from adults who do.  What makes this word so deplorable is that it is used to describe a group of individuals, in a derogatory way, who in many cases cannot self-advocate.  They may be called this word to their faces, but may not understand it enough to defend themselves.  Or, they may understand fully, but lack the language to say anything.

I pray that Jack never comes home from school saying, "So-and-so said I was (the "R" word).  What does that mean?"  Or worse, I hope that Jack never gets called that word and doesn't have the ability to let me know about it.

When we say this word to our non-disabled peers, it makes it a word that is increasing acceptable for use in our every day language.  There are far too many children and adults in our society who have an intellectual or developmental disability.  You may not be able to immediately tell who they are.  You should watch your language.

After reading a post from one of my favorite autism mom bloggers, I was directed to a website where you could pledge to stop using the "R" word.  So, here is my challenge to all of you.  Think twice before you speak.  If you feel so inclined, take the pledge through the link below and leave a comment to this post letting people know that you did.  If we all pledge to think before we speak, and to remind others to do so, we can make a world of difference.

Take the Pledge!

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