Not so long ago, if you used the word retarded around me I would’ve chewed you up and spit you out. How dare you use a word that demeans a group of people based on their cognitive abilities. How could someone be that rude and insensitive?
But then again, I can remember a time when I unknowingly did the same thing myself. I never meant any harm. It was just a word and I wasn’t making fun of anyone. At least, I didn’t think so. The key words being “didn’t think.”
So I’ve decided to give most people the benefit of the doubt and advocate for better word choice. We often speak words without thinking. My filter frequently breaks down. But I’m a work in progress. And giving birth to a child with an extra chromosome put me on the fast track to improving my filter.
That being said, there are also people who, well, just plain suck. You know the saying, mean people suck. It’s true. They do. They can change if they’d like, or they can stay that way. Their choice. I find arguing with insensitive, callous people pointless. Actually, there’s a Proverb that covers the same topic: Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. I’ve tried sending letters to people who’ve made the news mocking those with disabilities, not sure it got me anywhere.
So today I read about a comedian who complained about word usage and what we can’t say anymore. His thought was that if you can’t say retarded you should substitute with “extra 21st chromosome.” I’d like to tell you that felt like a sucker punch. But it didn’t. I’d like to tell you mamma bear came out gnashing teeth and ready to claw apart said comedian. But she didn’t. They’ll always be jerks in the world. I realize I can’t change them all. (I do find what he said extremely insensitive and rude.)
But my family and I can make a difference. My son attends kindergarten in a general ed classroom. He can barely write his name. He can’t quite count to 10. And he doesn’t know all the letters in the alphabet. Yet.
He’s learning. He says more each week. He recognizes new letters and numbers monthly. He’s far behind his peers academically. It’s a new experience for both my son and his peers. And it’s been an extremely positive experience for everyone.
You see, the students in our elementary are becoming familiar with Down syndrome. At first, it was different for them to see a student still in a pull-up. A student who is very limited verbally. Yet, they’ve found a way to connect. Whether playing on the playground, helping each other at lunch, or sharing a book together. My older son, who attends the same school, loves seeing his brother in the hallway. And he and his friends have made it a point to look out for his little brother.
My youngest walks the hallways and students from kindergarten through fifth grade give him high fives. The parents say hello and include us in birthday parties and play dates.
And just last night at a Cub Scout event, an early elementary scout said hi to my youngest. The little scout then asked me, “Is he a Wonder?” If you’ve read the book or seen the movie Wonder, then you’re already smiling. I looked at the little scout and replied, “yes, he is a Wonder.”
You see, I’m not going to start yelling on social media to a person who makes a living telling off-color jokes using Down syndrome as his punchline, even though I find it reprehensible. No, I’m going to keep integrating my son and our lives into the community. Into the world. So people get to know him. So others can see his beauty and passion for life. His perseverance.
I don’t yell. I let the world see and interact with my Wonder. Maybe someday, most people will see a Wonder and not a punchline.