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"That's retarded!" or "What a retard!" or "Are you retarded?"

"I was bullied today.  I was made fun of, and swore at."

-- a guest post by Bek.

This is my son’s worksheet from after an incident at school today. It wasn’t the first incident. Today, though, they surrounded him and joined in and taunted him. It started because one student called him a retard.

This is not ok.

I realize many people still use the “r-word” casually and I realize many people use it and think it is ok if they use it because it was considered acceptable when we were growing up. It is not acceptable now. Please consider what you are saying when you are calling a friend “retarded” or “a retard” or calling their behavior “retarded” as in “that’s so retarded” or “you are such a retard“. You are saying (even if this meaning is unintentional) that people with developmental, cognitive, and physical (people assume far too much about cognition based on just a glance) impairments and disabilities are less than you, are less than “normal”.

Our community has fought, and continues to fight, just to live as others live and to have the same rights as Joe or Jane Average. We all have dealt with adversity, even the youngest in our ranks.

Do not add to the vitriol and mistreatment by using that word.

If you use it now, please stop. If you use it by accident… That happens, but think about the child or adult you are really hurting, and vow to never use that word again (and share this message. Please.). If you hear a child, your child, a nephew, niece, neighbor, etc… use the “r-word“, tell them what I am telling you here. Tell them it hurts. If you are a teacher or school administrator or support staff, please consider spreading awareness that this word is inappropriate and too many students are still aiming it at other children, and not always in a casual way.

Some of those children, being called retards or asked, “are you retarded?” on the playground, in the halls, in the cafeteria are children who have been fighting hard their entire life just to have a seat at the table and in many schools, inclusion means that the table has kids with disabilities.

If you think it’s not a big deal, ask those kids and ask their parents how they feel about it. Ask an adult with disabilities. If you don’t know any you feel comfortable asking then please ask me. It is a big deal.

I was called that dreadful word, as a child with developmental delays, and my son has been called that word daily, at school.

My kid isn’t “normal” (which is a word we also don’t use in our home.). He’s better than that. His response to these lunchroom bullies is to explain to them why the r-word is not an acceptable word to use anymore. He is so much better, kinder, smarter than those nasty 8th grade boys. He would never call another child anything other than their first name, because he has been tormented and he knows that teasing and bullying is wrong. He is so much more mature than they are. He can’t fight back the way a developmentally average child would. So he explains. He tries to explain to these bigger kids why they are doing something wrong and mean. Which, of course, makes things worse, and magnifies his differences (which I see as such magnificent strengths) to these bullies. And the taunting increases. Where do you think these kids first heard the r-word? Probably at home, either from a parent or in a movie/on a tv show, and then they spread it around.


Sticks and stones may break bones, but the reality is that words do so much damage, and until you have been at the receiving end of them, for a lifetime, it can be impossible to fathom the destruction they can cause.

Please share this and share this link:

Please take the pledge and spread the message to family, friends, coworkers, classmates and ask them to move the message forward that the “r-word” is not acceptable in 2016.

Thank you.


  1. a very touchy issue. I'm glad your son is able to explain why the 'r' word isn't acceptable.
    I'm not so sure about the whole thing. Retarded means developmentally delayed, mentally, as far as I know. (Does it also refer to physical delays?)
    My own sister is retarded, (I've always used that word) and only just passed fifth grade by the time she was school leaving age. There's no way at all she would be able to explain why such a word is wrong or inexcusable. She is unable to work, not being able to understand so much of what is necessary to survive in any workforce. she was picked on at school too, but didn't understand or realise that the kids were teasing her.

    1. I am not sure about in Aus. but here it's a pejorative as well as the medical description. In fact, the medical descriptions are changing in favour of terms such as "developmentally delayed" or "intellectual disability" and so on.

  2. I think this is a fairly clear-cut issue. I suppose I hae always been a child advocate. In home life I looked after my siblings and stood up to bullies (I had been bullied myself as a young kid), and in high school I herded the freshmen in band like little ducklings until they found their space, in college I concentrated in child welfare, in adult life I married a geeky introvert who was, unbeknownst to me, an Aspie and we made two babies who grew to toddlers and are not receiving their autism diagnoses and various therapies. I never considered the word retarded until well past high school. It was an 80's thing, I think. But now it makes me mad when my brain even goes there without my asking it to, like it's a word pathway that you automatically take. I absolutely would never refer to another individual as retarded aloud or even in thought. I use that word in my head when I make a mistake, mess up, which happens a lot due to sleep deprivation. I think that when I refer to folks with developmental issues in my head, I don't link it to the word "retarded" but rather to the actual disorder...but I realize that is not the norm. I see my toddlers and think about your child's experience and wish it could be better. They will face what your son is facing. I hope I can do the amazing job you have done to create such a wise and brave boy. We need more like you, and more like him on this planet.

    1. I hear exactly what you are saying, LBK. So many of us who grew up with the word just meaning that something is "dopey" may automatically have that word come to mind now. But knowing it is hurtful, we don't say it.

      I know Bek is a great mother as well! She is always out there advocating for her teen son. :)

  3. HI Christine
    Why doesn't the school stomp on bullying like that sort of feral rubbish. They have a duty of care to your kid


    1. Hi, Karna! This is a guest post by my friend Bek, but unfortunately these problems are pretty universal it seems. :/


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