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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soapbox: Diagnosis not Epithet

All those who live for political correctness be warned.  This soapbox is not politically correct!

I have a grandson who is mentally retarded.  Yes, I said the words mentally retarded.  It is an accurate statement of his diagnosis. It is frank. It is blunt.  It is the truth.

In the 32 years I taught middle school I watched a wonderful trend develop.  As students were mainstreamed into regular classrooms there was an educational process about different conditions. I had a student with epilepsy and early in the school year she stood in front of the class and explained what it was and how it affected her and it cleared the air.  Everyone understood. The label lost its mysterious significance and the teasing dropped dramatically.  Same with a boy with cerebral palsy. Once he stood up and explained and humanized the condition, the rude comments of "spaz" etc. dwindled to nothing within the class, and his classmates often came to his defense outside of class. Even more ordinary conditions like diabetes and bee allergies were addressed openly and factually.  By demystifying the condition and learning more, the students developed empathy and understanding. Whether spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, asthma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, autism or any of the above... I have seen all addressed openly and honestly with very positive results.

Why not mental retardation?  But instead we find new ways of describing and labeling the same diagnosis.  Developmentally delayed.  Intellectually challenged. By not addressing it honestly,  we contribute to the subtle sense that it is something to be embarrassed about, ashamed of, etc. Even Downs Syndrome and autism are now often explained openly to students. Why not mental retardation?

My grandson has mental retardation.  It is not his fault.  It is not anyone's fault.  It is not something shameful.  Unlike most of the other conditions mentioned, there is no medical to cure it, no pill that eases its impact on his life and future.  Sometimes mental retardation is almost invisible, sometimes it is obvious. Parents often keep their child's diagnosis "confidential".. secret.  Society not only doesn't talk about "regular" mental retardation, we won't even say the words in public. If I say it, others are shocked and often even shush or scold me. It is time to bring it out of the shadows, out in the open. As long as we treat it as something unmentionable, something to be whispered about, we are encouraging spiteful individuals to use the diagnostic label as an epithet, a weapon to shame, ostracize and embarrass.  

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