If you want to know how not to be my friend, use the word “retarded.” If you want to be my friend and if you want to have my respect, then don’t use it. Don’t use it as a joke, don’t use it to make me mad and please don’t use it to refer to someone’s disability.
The biggest piece of my heart belongs to my brother, a 16-year-old who sleeps until 1:30 p.m. on the weekends and who would eat a cheeseburger for every meal of the day if my mother allowed him. A 16-year-old whose favorite sport is baseball and who knows every lyric to every classic rock song on the radio, and that’s not an exaggeration. A 16-year-old who has more love in his left pinky than I do in my whole body. A 16-year-old who has more passion and determination than anyone I’ve ever met. A 16-year-old with autism.
If it is disrespectful to define someone by their race or social status or economic background, then it is disrespectful to define someone by their disability. My brother is not defined by his autism. My brother is not slow or challenged, and he is most definitely not the “R” word. His disabilities and differences in learning do not by any means hinder his mental capabilities.
But some people still think it’s ok to use that word, whether to define people or in other contexts. Some people think it’s ok to call someone who doesn’t make the right decisions the “R” word, and some people think it’s ok to call their friends the “R” word when they’re just joking around. Some people throw that word around as if it doesn’t carry the painful power that it actually does hold.
The thing is, carelessly using such a derogatory word to describe people and things and actions is actually quite disrespectful. For so long, the “R” word was used broadly to demean those with and without disabilities, and now, using that word is taking people with disabilities and using that adjective to degrade others. When the “R” word is used as a derogatory term, people like my brother who are on the autism spectrum are told they are inferior.
I may not be the word police, but when it comes to my brother, I most certainly will sign myself up to be the moral police. And I am saying that morally that’s not alright.
The “R” word is eight heavy letters, eight violent and destructive letters. It is a word that, upon hearing it, feels like daggers straight to my heart. My stomach drops, and I feel all the daily struggles my brother experiences on my back. If that’s how I feel, I can only imagine what it must be like for him to live in a world where such a word is used as a common adjective.
So don’t use the “R” word. There are a hundred other words you could use in any given situation. You could say “silly” or “nonsense” or “foolish.” Don’t define someone with a disability with the “R” word. Don’t use such a weapon to break my brother or my neighbor or anyone else. Words hold power — for good or for evil — so don’t use them to taint what is beautiful and unique. Start making the world a little bit of a better place by refraining from allowing that monster to cross your lips. Plain and simple, do not use the “R” word.