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.
Shared at Joy in This Journey