My son horrified me last night. We were reading “The Secret Garden” and the Robin was thinking that Colin was learning to fly. “Oh, that’s stupid, ” said Ray definitely. “He’s retarded”.
I was aghast. “RAY!” I screeched. “You don’t SAY that word! Do you KNOW what kind of insult that it? Do you have any idea how hurtful that is?”
He was completely taken aback and yelled , “It just means not smart.! I’m not being mean! It just means not smart!” He then stormed off and hid in his closet, completely shutting me out.
I took a deep breath and realized that 1) he probably heard it at school and 2) figured out what it meant from the context, and 3) had no idea it was an insult since he’s never heard it at home.
I followed him to his closet and apologized for yelling at him; explained that I wanted to talk about why the word was so bad to use. He hid under his laundry basket. Clearly, this conversation would have to wait until he was more open to emotional conflict- something that is so hard for him to handle.
Later, he asked for me to snuggle just before bed. I asked him if we could talk about it. No response- but no rejection, either. So, I started.
About how my student Amanda has a child with intellectual and developmental delays and how she has said she would punch out the lights of anyone who insulted her daughter. How it’s an exceptionality that is not the fault of anyone. How my JOB is helping people understand exceptionalities and respect people with them. How “that” word used to be a medical term and is now considered an insult because it is used to describe someone being “stupid”. How EVERY human being deserves respect. How hurtful the word is to people who love people with differences. How hurtful it is for people WITH differences. How I signed a pledge at Spread the Word to End the Word. Did he want to sign the petition, too? I asked.
“No,” he grunted.
But he snuggled back up to me and said “I didn’t know.”
And so another child is educated. And I will knock the block off of the kid who taught it to him- ok, maybe I’ll just educate him, too- for Amanda, and everyone like her. And there will be only 29,999,998 people left to educate. Will YOU spread the word?