I don’t know any parent who doesn’t at some level want to raise their children to be quality individuals.
We want them to be smart, funny and loved. More than anything I hope you want them to be kind.
But kindness isn’t something you can’t teach, it has to be learned and what we want them to learn, we must model with actions. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that words aren’t important, they’re vital.
Even more than the words we say to our children, it’s the words we say around our children.
Our words and deeds towards others shape how our children value others. They influence friends and others we share time with and they cause some to see things in a way they never imagined.
Wednesday of this week was the “Spread the Word to End the Word” day. The Word I am referring to is known to many in the special needs community as “the r-word” as in “retard” or “retarded”.
You see, with a child who has intellectual disabilities, those words have been used to to diminish her value and the worth of other innocent souls like our Allison.
I’ve heard some defend the use by saying it’s clinical or it’s appropriate because it means “slow” but when you are using it to mean something is stupid or foolish, there is no other way than to connect it to it’s original use in the term “mental retardation”.
There is no defense in using this word. It’s not funny or clever at all. It’s hurtful and it stigmatizes the most gentle, innocent people here on earth.
The r-word has it’s cousins too. When you jokingly say someone “rides the short bus” it’s offensive to those families whose only option is that bus. You are making fun of the entire population who live every day with special needs.
Speaking of special needs, when you make motions as if you have a developmental disability and proclaim “I’m special!” there is no excuse. You are without a doubt insulting our family members.
My friends, these are those things that alienate our families in a world that already feels ill fitting and lonely. I never want to make someone feel awful so I don’t say anything when I hear it said. Most likely I will just cringe and become quiet as I wrestle in my head whether or not I should let you know that your words hurt.
We already feel on the outside as you talk about birthday parties she was never invited to, Easter Egg hunts that were inaccessible and events for her peers in upstairs rooms that her wheelchair doesn’t reach.
We sometimes have to search for a parking space wide enough and far away from the building to get her into her wheelchair because some folks don’t observe the rules for handicap spaces. I’ve been told that it shouldn’t be a special privilege (I’ll save that argument for another day).
We don’t need inaccessible attitudes swirling around us. We need respect and friends we can trust with our hearts. (In case you wonder, I am blessed with more of those friends than I deserve.)
If you want to teach your children to be kind, then be kind.
If you want your children to know respect, then show respect.
If you want others to know they are loved then love others.
You see, my family is in love with a special girl, whose diagnosis reads “mental retardation” and she rides a bus to school that just happens to be short and she’s taught us more about all of those things than anyone will ever know.
This article first appeared at NRTODAY.COM