end the R word

(re-posting my article written 2-18-13 in honor of Spread the Word Awareness Day)

The “R” word is one of those words that, if you know someone with cognitive delays, you instinctively cringe the second you see it, read it or hear it. If you are not close to someone with cognitive delays, my guess is you speak it, read it or hear it, and it passes right by without a single thought. If you are part of the latter group, you might even be asking what the heck the “R” word is. Google it…I can’t bring myself to type it.

That is the battle of removing the “R” word from our vocabulary. The word is used by bullies and casual users alike. Whether the use of the word is intended to wound or simply as way to express someone’s “uncool” actions, it causes damage.

Some of you are nodding your heads in agreement at the above sentence, and some of you are shaking your heads in disagreement. Its just a word, how can it cause damage when its not even intended to?

I’m so glad you asked! Allow me to explain: When the “R” word is directed at someone, whether jokingly or hurtfully, it is being implied that person is no smarter than someone with cognitive delays. That statement automatically puts a label on these individuals, and diminishes their value as a person to one that is stupid and worthless. Yes, words have that power. Why do you think stereotypes are so difficult to overcome?

The only way to overcome a stereotype is education. I can scream, beg, and plead with people not to use the word, but unless they have an understanding why, they will walk away shaking their heads and telling me to get over it already.

Not so long ago, people with Down syndrome, and others with cognitive delays, were institutionalized. That was very common, and though parents may have been torn over the decision, they allowed the doctors to tell them this was the best. It was “normal.”

How did that change? Education. Some parents actually had to argue with their doctors to keep their children home. Once home, these pioneering parents raised their child right along with their typically developing children(so sad that a parent should be called a pioneer just because they have chosen to raise their own child). Shocking news….these kids thrived! This awareness spread, and now our kids with cognitive delays hold jobs, go to college, get married, the sky’s the limit. Our kids are now productive members of society with fulfilling lives all thanks to these brave parents that ignored the stereotypes.

I’m not here to regulate people’s lives, and censor vocabularies. I’m here to educate and create awareness of why this word is hurtful. Please understand, our children with cognitive delays have a label slapped on them the day they are born, and they have to overcome these stereotypes having done nothing to deserve them. We parents and teachers watch how hard our children have to work for the things that typically developing children take for granted. They have lots of hurdles to jump, and I don’t see it as too much to ask to remove this one label by choosing another word.

If you still are not convinced, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours with a Young Adult Program for people with special needs. You will see, firsthand, how hard these people work to do what we do so easily. And they are so proud and have such pride in their accomplishments. Why use a word that pigeon holes them when an alternative word could easily replace it?

The new R word being proposed is Respect. How very appropriate. That word has no battle to it, it simply speaks the truth.

Respectfully submitted,


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