Spread the Word to End the Word 2016


STW_2016_PosterI’m tired of tiptoeing around it. I’m tired of pretending like it doesn’t matter. I’m tired of living in a society that treats its most innocent like rubbish. It has to stop.

I know I’m being dramatic. I can’t help it. We all get ferocious when it comes to our kids and how they’re treated by others. When our kids get bullied or teased by their schoolmates, our claws come out. When they get treated like second class citizens by teachers or other adults they come in contact with, we fight back. But imagine if everyone who came in contact with your child viewed them as inferior. As a child. As a teenager. As an adult. At best, they’re treated like they can’t understand anything and perhaps ignored. At worst, others laugh at, ridicule and call names right to their face. People see them and snicker with each other, bandying about hurtful descriptors or smile condescendingly and talk about how “cute” or “sweet” it is that your child is out functioning in the world in whatever capacity. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could take that. I couldn’t sit by as my Henry was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at, or treated like he shouldn’t exist. But Henry (and others like him) just suck it up and take it. They don’t shout, “Back ‘atcha bee-yotch” or smack somebody in the face or even politely correct their misapprehensions. They just drop their eyes and try to blend into the woodwork, pretending perhaps like they don’t understand or they didn’t hear it. That just sucks in so many ways, I can’t fully express it.

This has to stop. It HAS to. What have we become? Sometimes I think we’ve come so far in this area since we no longer institutionalize people with special needs and they’re being mainstreamed in education, getting the intervention they need and accomplishing more and more every day. But our attitudes in general haven’t changed. We avoid people who are different. We don’t look at them. We don’t talk to them. It’s almost as if we think if we’re nice to them and treat them like actual HUMAN BEINGS, we’ll catch their cooties or something. GET OVER IT. You can’t catch Down Syndrome. You can’t catch autism. You can’t catch Fragile X or cerebral palsy or hydrocephalus or any of the myriad other developmental & cognitive delays that make people “different”. But you know what you CAN catch from these people? Unconditional love. A more inclusive worldview. A redefinition of what it means to accomplish something. Learning what joy, excitement, happiness really are. Finding amazement in little things. Becoming a better person who’s less focused on yourself and what you can get your hands on or how you can climb the ladder. God forbid any of us should catch any of THAT.

Today is a very important day in our house. It’s a day to get the word out about the word “retard” and its derivatives and how very, very hurtful, hateful and disparaging it is. It’s an attempt to get people thinking about how “retard” is no different from the n-word or f**got or any other pejorative word that refers to someone’s race, sex, religion or whatever. It’s no different because it devalues a group of people by making them small. It’s an attempt to get people to stop using that word. Please. Stop using it. It serves no purpose other than to hurt. It makes an entire group of people into nothing more than a joke. THAT IS NOT OKAY. Ever. For any group of people. But especially for this group because they won’t tell you how you’re mistaken in your view of people with special needs. They won’t challenge you, front you down or beat you up for insulting them.

Back in 2010, Maggie gave a speech in her school. It was given to the 3rd-8th graders and she nailed it. She took a stand and did something about it. I was so incredibly proud of her. I did tape it, but she asked that I not share it here. The best part was that she included Henry. She finished and then invited Henry in. He ran right up the aisle, did a lap around the kids, found a chair, sat down, moved to a different chair, got down & went up to Maggie and smacked her, did another lap around the kids and then we went out. The best visual aide ever. Because this is what I believe: an issue like this means nothing to you if it’s not made personal. If you don’t know someone personally who fits into the category, you won’t care. So how can I make you care? Make you know someone.

Meet my son. First, just realize he exists and he’s attached to someone you know. Then get to know more about him. Now you know someone that this is about. Now, maybe, you’ll care a little more. Meet Henry. He’s a person with Down Syndrome. He’s not Down Syndrome. It’s not who he is – it’s a small portion of who he is. He also is a person who loves animals fiercely – especially cows, giraffes, elephants and farm animals – who dances with a passion and joy unlike any I’ve ever seen, loves to sing (and if he doesn’t know the words, he’ll simply insert animal names), adores big, heavy books that he can set on his lap to flip through. His best friend right now are his 2 tablets (a Galaxy he calls “tablet” and an iPad that’s called “purple one” because it has a purple case) because he can make them do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He loves his family with abandon. Sometimes a little too much abandon, but still. He has a special affinity for his Pop-Pop. He loves to eat pasta, bananas, yogurt, applesauce, Cheerios and graham cookies. He digs spinning, Elmo, Yo Gabba Gabba, Little Bear, Signing Time, books about animals, Jack’s Big Music Show, Mickey Mouse, bouncing, wrestling with his siblings, The Lion King, iCarly, his aide Miss Tina, his teacher, Ms. Hong, AC/DC, “Chain of Fools,” Parliment Funkadelic, Tom Jones and any other super-funky music . He’s a person. He has things he loves and things he hates. Just like you. Isn’t that something?

If I’ve reached you, even a little bit, please consider going to www.r-word.org and pledge to stop using that word. But, more than that, pledge to start seeing people who are different as the individual human beings they are. Maybe pledge to get to know somebody who has special needs. I promise – it will change your life.