As summer unofficially ends and the school season begins, here’s some food for thought: an (unedited) essay written by my daughter Christine, age 9.
Normally, I wouldn’t care about the word “Retarded”. But when Thomas came along, that all changed. Thomas was born ten weeks early. Because of that he started out with health problems and a disability called “Down Syndrome”.* Then everything seemed to change. My mother stayed at the hospital, with the little baby I was barley able to see, because of all the tubes coming out of him, just about every little part of him was covered in tubes and IVs.
As Thomas grew older he became healthier and after getting his tonsils out at age 2, getting tubes in his ears, and an eye operation he was as good as any baby. Except for the fact that he was 2 years old and he wasn’t walking.
At my school we were talking about how people work, like how they learn how to walk. I brought up the topic about Thomas; the little baby that was 2 and couldn’t walk.
“Christine’s brother has a disability” My teacher began, “Which means he’s Mildly Retarded”
Just then I felt like killing everybody in the classroom. The fact that they all believed that the little brother I loved was “Retarded.” My mind burned with anger. I nearly broke out in tears. Why did they treat him like that? He may be different but that doesn’t mean he should be separated.
Later on in the week, our teacher was showing us some idiotic videos about plants. “These are mildly Retarded!” whispered a boy, to a neighbor. As soon as I heard him speak that kind of language my heart was filling up with anger again. I wanted to reach out and choke the boy, now sitting peacefully on his pockets. Wasn’t “Retarded” just a term used by Doctors and Nurses?
I had a clear memory of a certain video, particularly “Fred” which used the word “Retarded” in the way that the young boy in my class used. My mother was hurt by the videos and taught us not to say the word in that way. Now I had a little baby brother who was “Retarded” and now the world used the word in a different way. I was afraid to speak out, and say that that wasn’t a good word, but threatens had gone around from the young boys in my class about “Beating Me Up” and such. The urge to choke him became larger as I continued to think about the word “Retarded”. But my number one question about the word was “Why did they change the word to the meaning Stupid, or Idiotic?” It now was used as an insult, not a medical term.
The problem with the word hasn’t gone away yet, but soon I hope to overcome fears and face the music. As Thomas grows older I will continue to feel hurt whenever the word is used. But I will always love him and want him to be treated just like everybody else in America. As this chapter in his life stage, being a small baby continues I will strive to look out for him and keep him safe, and not hurt either by sticks and stones or words that come from the mouth.
* Christine now understands that Thomas’s prematurity didn’t cause Down syndrome.