Letter To The Others

You’ve seen me at the playground with my son and passed us in the mall.  He is the one in the wheelchair, the one who drools, and vocalizes with insistence instead of words.

I owe you an apology, not for who my son is, but for what I’ve done to you.

I tend to be pretty zealous about the words you choose, and in doing so probably shut you down. You see, I really don’t like the word retarded. It’s too loaded, full of negative connotations. But, it’s hiding in my house, sealed in an envelope, written in a letter by my doctor.  My son has a diagnosis of mental retardation and I don’t even like those words coming from a doctor. I may even bristle inside a bit if you want to know what’s wrong with him. There are other hurtful words too, but I don’t believe you say them to hurt me, in fact, you may not know what else to say.

Or perhaps you do. Maybe you’ve been flooded with information about People First Language or been given options like “cognitive impairment” or “developmental disability.”  I’m wondering if it makes you stop and think before you speak, even get flustered.  Are you the one who smiles shyly as you walk by because you’re too afraid to say the wrong thing?

Here’s what I want you to know: while I do feel strongly about the words chosen to describe my son, you’ll hurt me more with your silence.

My son is here to teach us all about the beauty of our differences, to stretch us beyond our comfort zones into each other’s lives.

So please say hello to him. You can ask me about my son too; what grade he’s in; what he likes to do; if he gets along with his brother.

Please accept my apology for confusing you, overwhelming you, silencing you. I look forward to talking to you.


Another Mom


Shared at Joy in This Journey


29 thoughts on “Letter To The Others

  1. Hi Team Aiden, Your words hit home for me. My Jimmy has severe developmental delay. I see the way the other parents look at me as I am carrying my thirty pound toddler around. Even if the do not ask, “what it wrong with him?” you can see the look on their faces. I live in a very small town and we are very active in the community. Many of the people know him and that makes it easier. I have many supporters but it doesn’t make it hurt less when I drop him off at school and all the other children are rounding around screaming and my son has to wait for his Aid to come work with him. Thank you for posting your heart on this blog to share ❤

    • Being active in a small town is so important. Just being visible is a huge benefit to your community. But yes, I understand that feeling of still being on the outside, everything still being that much more difficult. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you! I thought I was “sensitive” when people asked what was wrong with my son “Mason”. I don’t see anything wrong with him. I see a beautiful little boy that sees so much more from the world than we ever will. I see a little boy that is trapped inside his body. He knows everything that is going on and is probably even smarter than I give him credit for. His body has not caught up with that amazing mind of his. Thank you for sharing what I have always been thinking.

    • Yes, exactly, and I do believe it’s up to us as parents to set the example of high hopes and expectations. But I also believe, as exhausting as it may feel, that it’s up to us to help people build a bridge with our children too. THanks for sharing.

  3. loved this piece, heather. leaves me so thankful (once again) for the sacred opportunity i had as a child to walk through life w/ two families in our church who each had a child with special needs. and so as a very young child, i was given a huge gift — a solid understanding of the value that each person on this planet possesses, a comfort in hangin’ out with folks who were different than i was, & the eyes to see that those differences are the very ways that the Lord reveals His glory through them.

    thanks so much for this honest piece,

    • YES YES YES!!! This is so encouraging to me. This is my hope – that by my son’s presence others will eventually feel more comfortable to engage. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

      • hey again, heather,

        i couldn’t resist stopping by to let you know that this post was the impetus for my latest blog post. i’m super excited that the Lord nudged me to share this piece of who i am, but admittedly feeling a bit insecure (after just having pushed the publish button) b/c i’ve never written anything on special needs before, & i don’t feel qualified — but wait a minute, that’s the whole point that i share in the post! LOL!
        (God is so, so good . . . ) 🙂

  4. This is beautiful! I have an amazing 2 year old little girl who does all the things that you just mentioned Aiden doing and it’s really been a struggle for me going out in public with her. I am so very proud of her, but it’s always so comforting to hear that your not alone. Thank you! You have such a healthy, positive Outlook. 🙂

    • Oh, Rebecca, I’m so glad you stopped by and you most certainly are not alone. Yes, it’s not only a hassle to participate in community but sometimes it’s more than I can emotionally handle but it’s also so important for everyone. Please be encouraged.

  5. I really loved this thank you for this post i liked it so much i reposted it.
    I took custody of my great nephew he is a special needs child and he is the best thing in my world. Jayden is 3 years old and i see all the looks we get when iam at the store or at the park with him and pushing him in his wheel chair i would rather someone to ask me what is wrong with him than to just look at us like they are sorry for the way he is.. Im not sorry for Jayden iam sorry for the way They are Jayden is a wonderful little boy and he is here for a reason and that is to put Love into my life and that is what Jayden does he makes me smile and laugh something i didnt do 3 years ago.. Jayden is my world and will always be .. Ill be here for him until i die …thanks again for your post..

  6. Oh. This is good. I think we can unintentionally shut people down by criticizing word choices and not hearing the heart behind clumsy or poorly-thought-out words. I know I have to fight that tendency so much in myself, especially in the things people say about a child dying. *sigh*

    • Oh my word I can’t even imagine having to keep my mouth shut over that one. But yes, it really is about relationships and hearing each other’s heart and bravely telling your birth story like you did helps with this educational piece.

  7. First of all this is lovely, thank you for writing it and sharing it.

    I think that whole “what’s wrong with” comment hits all of us moms in a very soft and protective spot. My son is 13 and has CP and for years now my pat response has been, “Nothing is wrong with him, but let me explain what is different about him, after I introduce him to you.” Then depending on if it is an adult or a child we talk about how Tim is different and the same as other people, but not wrong.

  8. I totally get this. I had to include a link in my post and even write my own letter. Thanks so much from a mommy who’s new to this 🙂

  9. Pingback: A Letter (and a somewhat lengthy update) « Fully Mothering

  10. Your son is beautiful! I’m glad I found you through Love That Max. I’ve been trying to get The New York Times to stop their routine use of “retarded” to describe people like our kids. Hope you’ll pop by BLOOM.

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