I feel like I have always had a strong acceptance for others with disabilities (long before Morgan came into my life)--my best friend in 6th grade was deaf and I never thought about her being different. I just felt fortunate to have a friend that was teaching me ASL and that we were able to communicate without others understanding us. So I would never intentionally use a word that I knew was hurtful to so many. And I probably would have never realized I used that word until after Morgan was born.
A few weeks after Morgan was born, I was taking a picture of all my kids together and my oldest (then 5 years old) kept crossing his eyes to be funny. I was tired of trying to get a good family picture and having him do that every time. I quickly said, "Jack quit crossing your eyes in the picture. You look retarded!" That is when I looked at my new, little baby daughter, innocent and beautiful. And realized I had just used a term that didn't fit her at all and knew that I NEVER wanted to use that word again and didn't even know why I had said it in the first place.
People just don't know. It starts with educating those around you but also choosing to ignore the comment and understanding that they do not mean harm. I have a good friend that frequently uses that word in place of 'stupid'. I have made several comments to her as have my children to her kids when they say it around them but it is obvious that that word is a habit for everyone in their family. Just a few nights ago her husband said to me, "I swear my kids are retarded. Do you ever feel that way?" To which I responded, "Yes, I do, Morgan has Down syndrome." He quickly said, "No, that's not what I meant...that is just sweetness." But see Morgan does have mental retardation but I haven't ever seen her hit her hand repetitively against her chest like a Love and Logic teacher did when describing how "retarded" something was that she had done. Nor would I describe Morgan as stupid. She is one smart cookie -- she just needs more repetition and time than 'typical' kids to learn new things. She knows her letters, numbers, sounds, and is getting ready to start reading just like her peers that are also starting kindergarten.
But I also have friends that have noticed my sensitivity to the term and have had FHE lessons on disabilities and the "R" word and why it is derogatory and not interchangeable for 'stupid'. My children's friends frequently explain to me all the things they know about Morgan (so cute!) when they are over at my house which makes it obvious that their family has discussed Down syndrome and Morgan with them. One of the most recent things one little girl said was, "Did you know that Morgan proved herself in heaven because her spirit is so strong and she will automatically live with Jesus Christ again, but even though she isn't being tested, she might test others around her?" I LOVED the last part because Morgan definitely does test those around her! She is here to teach me more patience and understanding. Which is what we all need to do with those around us that just don't understand the hurt that word causes us. But in the meantime, if you are reading this post and never really thought about the "R" word, take this opportunity to educate yourself and expand your vocabulary with a different word that really means what you are trying to say! Thanks! I will now get off my soapbox! :)