I recently was criticized for referring to one of my cherubinis as being diagnosed with mental retardation. The listener was offended that I would call I child I loved mentally retarded. I have had that reaction before. I get annoyed in return. Here is my view. My post is late because I struggled whether sharing this opinion would cost me readers. But it is my opinion, as the adoptive parent and foster parent of wonderful, loving, delightful individuals who are, by the way, mentally retarded. I offer no cute pictures today... just a plea to stop hiding and shaming.
Mental Retardation is NOT a slur. It is a factual diagnosis, based on definitive medical criteria. It is a fact. A fact is different than a fault. It has no shame attached or implied. Sure, it can be made into a slur. Almost any fact can. [Ex: A girl can be insulted by the inflection in a voice saying: "What can you expect.... she is a blonde after all.
I believe that as long as we keep something secret or speak it only in whispers, it will be something that everyone thinks is shameful. Mental Retardation is a condition, but it not shameful. A person who is diagnosed with mental retardation according the the DSMR medical criteria is not at fault....has not done something wrong, should not be ashamed. It is the way we react to mental retardation that is shameful. It is when someone uses the words as an insult that we should be ashamed. We need to demystify mental retardation and take it out of the closet into the light.
When we invent different names for things to avoid naming them we imply shame, guilt, embarassment. I have watched "special education" be relabeled "instructional support, ""mentally retarded" be relabeled "developmentally delayed," and the list goes on. We need to address the root of the problem, the combination of misinformation, lack of informaion, and good old-fashioned bullying.
What we speak of in whispers is perceived as an embarrassment, a shame. We used to speak of epilepsy, diabetes, autism, and more in whispers. Now students explain their diagnosis to their classmates to demystify, engage empathy, and move on. It is time we did the same with mental retardation. It is a fact. It is a medical diagnosis. It is NOT something to be ashamed of. It is something that needs to be understood, admitted, and out in the open if the children [and adults] who live with that condition are to receive the proper support and understanding.
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