Friday, November 21, 2008

The R word

I know it is no longer politically correct to use the term mental retardation, and that disability advocates want us to say intellectual disability instead. But here's the thing. No one knows what that means, and well, with my already having to give a science lesson every time I try to tell someone what's up with my kid, I don't want to also have to give a lesson in politically correct vocabulary. Mental retardation is quick. Everyone understands it.

Case in point. Today, two co-workers were discussing potty chairs (don't ask) and then one co-worker (who doesn't know me well and didn't know about my son) asked me which one my son used. Ummmmm... So in an effort to have a quick conversation and get back to work, I simply said he probably wouldn't be ready to have a potty chair for quite awhile. I could see the wheels in her head turning, like she was doing the math, trying to figure out how old my son was. Then she asked and I said, "He's a little over two." Then more wheels turning. So I volunteered, "He has a disability." Then she said, "But I've seen him walking and he is quite charming!" Ummmmm, okay... So I said, "Oh, he can walk, but he is mentally retarded." And then the light blub went on. She asked for more info and I began the Fragile X Elevator Speech.

I've tried intellectual disability and developmental delay before, and those words tend to elicit irritating puzzlement ("Huh?") or trivialization of the problem ("Oh, my son was a little slow, too, and now he's a rocket scientist!"). But mental retardation works every time. What language do you use?

7 comments:

Jen said...

I use mental retardation. A couple of years ago, I had a professor for 2 classes who has a son with autism. One class was called “Exceptional Children,” and I can’t remember what the other class was, but it had to do with children with special needs—both great classes where I learned a lot that I wish I had known earlier. She pointed out that mental retardation is a medical term. Her political correctness was in how you use the terms. For example, one shouldn't say, "I have a mentally retarded son," or "I have an autistic daughter." The child should come first because the "label" shouldn't define them: “My son has mental retardation,” or "I have a daughter who has autism.” The retardation is a condition that they have, it’s not who they are. It’s a little thing, but I agree with her.
I do, though, cringe when people loosely use the word retarded, and yes, I have corrected some people.

The Other Lion said...

I agree with both of you. I use the term mental retardation because it's easy to understand and, well, because he has it! But I still don't like when people use it as an insult or a synonym for stupid.

FXSmom said...

i've seen some people give incredibly vicious over the word retarded so I go with mentally handicapped...which even that can cause drama but oh well. There are these cards out there that can be ordered on the nfxf site and I use when people ask. Then I can just say "fragile x" and pass on the card.

Back onto the word retarded...a lot of folks don't realize that "retard" comes from the latin word that means "late." And many of these kiddos are just late :)

Umma said...

I use all of the above depending on the situtation and what we're discussing. I also use "global delays" a lot.

Leanne said...

Yeah, I know what you mean. I grew up with a brother who also has FX (but was misdiagnosed at the time) - anyway...mentally retarded was how I always heard him described, so it never bothered me. It was true. But 'that is so retarded' or calling a person a retard - oh that gets me FURIOUS. And I've corrected many people over the years.
My son is much higher functioning than my brother, so I usually describe him as having a learning disability. It depends a lot on who I'm talking to and the context of the conversation.

beth said...

Aren't there a lot of kids "a little over two" who aren't potty trained? I don't understand why your coworker would put you in the awkward position of having to explain it in the first place.

—Beth (via Justin)

Sarah said...

Hi Beth, Definitely lots of two-year-olds aren't potty trained! But I think it's because I said he wouldn't even need the training chair for "quite awhile". Thanks for visiting the blog!