Military Special Needs Network

Proudly Supporting all Military Families with a Special Needs Dependent

What’s in a Word?


“That’s so retarded!”

“What a retard.”

“What are you? Retarded?”

You’ve heard it all before. Heck, you may have even said it all before. But chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are either the parent of a special needs child, or part of the support system for someone else who is the parent of a special needs child. You know how hurtful this word is. You know that it is no longer acceptable to use this word, neither in diagnostic nor in slang-type situations. And yet…

“It just slipped out.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“I wouldn’t say it around you, or your kid.”

“I didn’t mean people like your child. Just, you know, stupid people.

Using a (former) medical diagnosis as an insult is pretty low. Can you imagine running around calling people cancers? Using something like breast cancer as an insult? No? Why not?

No one chooses to have cancer. I know of no person who made a conscious decision to become intellectually delayed. No one wakes up one day and says, “I wish I would never live independently, never marry or have children, never find success in a career field of my choice, never know the joy of mastering a desired skillset.” No one. Why would the word “retard” or “retarded” become an insult. How can you insult someone with a diagnosis or situation that was never their choice to begin with? I mean, you wouldn’t hurl this to anyone: “Hey! You act like you have Stage 4 terminal breast cancer that has metastasized to your brain!” Right?

No one chooses to be intellectually disabled. Children who are born with medical conditions, babies who are exposed in utero to noxious substances, adults who have experienced traumatic brain injuries from horrible car accidents or rocket propelled grenades in a war zone: what is it about their struggle that brings to mind someone acting “silly” or making a decision that you find laughable? These folks struggle with every single aspect of their lives – nothing comes easy to these individuals. Their tenacity and perseverance, however, is awe-inspiring. Is that what you mean when you call the driver in front of you a retard? I somehow doubt it.

My point is, think about what you are saying. Think about how quickly you or someone you love could go from cognitively intact to severely brain damaged. We’re talking one beer “for the road,” one poor decision to dive into murky water, one car accident that wasn’t even your fault…maybe your future child will be oxygen deprived at birth…maybe your beloved nephew or niece will be diagnosed with autism, Down Syndrome, or cerebral palsy. In one instant your life and that of your loved one will change forever.

Your life will change forever, and you, too, will feel the stabbing pain when you overhear someone so casually throw out this hateful and hurtful word.

Stop the R-Word. Be better than that. Be the change in the world. Be strong enough to stand up to those who aren’t.


Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to three children; 16 year old NT, 6 and 5 year old boys on the spectrum; and, since life was getting a touch boring, she’s added a bun in the oven. Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays on special needs children entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She can also be found at, and as a guest blogger throughout the blog-iverse. In her spare time, Kelly is the Blog Master for, and member of, the Military Special Needs Network Executive Board. You can contact her via email at

4 comments on “What’s in a Word?

  1. Pingback: Spread the word to end the word – a suggested suitable replacement | Autism from a Father's Point of View

  2. Pingback: Don’t.

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