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This is from the blog Herding Cats by Phoebe. Share your thoughts on this blog below.

All around me, people use the word retarded without a second thought.  Sometimes, I’ll say “Um, dude, really?” and they’ll say “Oops, my bad!  But really!  I was being so retarded!”

Sometimes, I let it slide.  I realize that it’s a word that’s ingrained in our society’s vocabulary and people use it without a second thought to its meaning.

But what does it mean to be retarded?  Well, I know what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite 100 choices in front of you.

It doesn’t mean not being able to find your car keys.

It doesn’t mean saying the wrong thing to a person.

It doesn’t mean forgetting your best friend’s birthday.

It’s not something to describe yourself as when you’ve spilled your coffee, or tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s not something to describe your computer, car or phone.

According to  Merriam-Webster Dictionary  the word “retarded” means -

: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress

For me, it’s not just any old word – it’s my daughter.  My beautiful, bright, happy, loving, amazing daughter who is slow or limited in intellectual development and academic progress.

In our household, being retarded means something different.

It means not being able to fully care for yourself.

It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do to you.

It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts.

It means not being able to ride a two wheeler.  Or read.  Or ever be able to live on your own.

But ever the optimist, I also know that retarded means…

…never realizing the negativity behind the word retarded.

…never knowing the insensitivity surrounded the word’s usage.

…never realizing the ignorance of people.

…never knowing how other people view you.

Being retarded also means…

…loving unconditionally.

…finding joy in the smallest of things.

…being self-confident.

…not realizing that there are limitations.


 This is Maura.  Her diagnosis?  Cognitively disabled.  Which means retarded.  When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my child stupid.  Because you use the word as just that – another form of stupid.

Let’s get something straight here.

My daughter may have cognitive issues.  She may have delays.  She may never live on her own.  Scratch that.  She will never live on her own.

But Maura is not stupid.

In her own way, Maura is very smart.  Maybe smarter than us at times.  She has more self-confidence than anyone I know who’s called themselves “retarded”.  She is the best judge of a person’s character than anyone else I’ve ever known.

Yes, she is slow to learn things.  But she is not stupid.

I know that most people don’t use the word “retarded” maliciously.  Most people I know use it in a self-depreciating way.  And when I point it out, they go “Oh wow!  I’m sorry!” and they truly feel like a heel. But the thing is, you’re still using it in the way that people who do use it maliciously use it as – to describe stupidity.

So why not just use the word “stupid” instead?  Because I know what “retarded” is.  I live with it in the form of my daughter.  And in our world “retarded” doesn’t equate to “stupid”.

From the blog Herding Cats

by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Replies (111-120):
by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 6:51 PM
1 mom liked this

Luckily in the UK this word is so seldom used .. it's even thought of as 'an American thing'.  In the UK, people like this are considered 'special needs'.  And that can range from a child having difficulty learning to read - through those with the likes of dyslexia, to some who are totally unable to live or act alone and need full time care.  Calling someone a 'retard' is such an ugly thing.  Using it 'off handedly' is so careless when there are other words that we can use that are not cruel, uncaring and nasty.  

Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do no inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. Ancient Indian Proverb
by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Hi Jenn, Thank you for your touching article about your little angel. Maura's a lucky girl to have a mom like you. I would like to give her a gift. I've written and illustrated THE ICE VEIL TALES, a series of fantasy/adventures about a little girl who discovers her source of joy, compassion, and innate wisdom inside herself.  This special place is inside everyone. Finding it is as simple as following the flow of one's breath. Please show her my Puppet Shows at: If she enjoys them, email me at:, and I'll send you the 12 stories of THE ICE VEIL TALES. I hope she'll enjoy them.

by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 6:57 PM
Firstly, let me start off by saying that your daughter is truely and honestly one of the most beautiful girls i have ever seen! That being said, this article brought tears to my eyes...very well put! Reach for the Stars, Maura! :)
by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:02 PM
I work every day with individuals who have developmental challenges and my own son will face many obsticals we don't even take notice of so I know where your coming from, and I want you to know your response was the best I have ever read to the casual use of the word "retarted" in our culture. Way to go Mom!
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by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:02 PM

This is one of my pet peeves...I HATE to hear someone use the word "retard" or any of it's more vulgar incarnations.  Once my MIL sent an e mail joke that tricks ppl into saying "I'm so f*ing retarded"....I called and asked her WTH? She said "Oh it was just something to make you laugh"..............REALLY???  But she never would accept our daughter's diagnosis of developmental delays...she tell people Allison is autistic, which she isn't. I guess she prefers that to saying she is developmenally delays in all areas and has seizures and we don't know why....We know longer have contact with the MIL thankfully.

I wish ppl would stop and think that sometimes words hurt ALOT

by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:02 PM
What a Cutie she is. I saw her and almost forgot what this post was all about. She looks, happy. I can understand what you mean. Thanks for posting this.
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by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:04 PM

This is lovely.  I wish for you that the world gets this message.  My cousin has Down's Syndrome, is over 50 and the sweetest person I know.  Good luck getting the message across.  We try in our household to make others aware of the inappropriateness of the word usage but it started  being used as a slur in society 30 or 40 years ago and still rears its ugly head periodically.. 

by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:04 PM

I have volunteered or worked with chldren and adults with developmental disabilities most of my life. I still remember trying to get my niece to stop saying she was retarded when she did something dumb. I will say no dear you just did something stupid don't insult the people I work with because they would not do that stupid thing you just did.

by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:04 PM

She's probably smarter than most of us. Thank you for this, it's such an eye-opener. And, by the way, Maura is just beautiful! You must be very proud to have such a lovely daughter.

by on Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:06 PM
I love this
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