When you have lived your entire life interacting with family and friends that have mental disabilities of any kind, or in my case are a member with one, you will inevitably hear that slur, the R-word. This word has the same effect as hearing the N-word used today; that’s how strong it is. Sticks, stones, and words can hurt you.
The thing is, the mental disability has to be painfully obvious. For me, nobody even suspects I fall under that category unless I tell them so. Even then, I have been told that I’m lying or that I couldn’t possibly be that way because “I’m too smart” or “You’re too normal” (that takes a LOT of effort) or even “You’re not r******* enough” (seriously?!?). That does nothing but close any productive dialogue between me and someone else, as well as distancing myself from that person. I don’t have enough confidence yet to verbally speak out about it, mainly due to a fear of being criticized for being overly sensitive (nicest words possible). I’d like to be able to reach that level sometime this year.
But what have I done?
- Obtained a driver’s license
- Graduated high school (somewhere in the top 50%)
- Currently enrolled in college
- Able to maintain at least a 3.5 GPA for most of my life
- Recently got a part for some plays my school will showcase that I actually wanted
And that’s only some of the things I’ve done, someone who’s considered to be r*******.
If we were to take a look at historical figures given a posthumous diagnosis of Asperger’s or those who are living and suspected, for example (as controversial as it sounds), we have names of Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, Mozart, Bill Gates. Looking at their contributions, there’s NO possible way someone who was r******* could do that, right?
Just because I may not be involved in your conversation, I do hear what is said. I’m pretty sure that at some point, there has been, if it hasn’t happened already in people’s lives, an encounter between a neurotypical and someone who isn’t. It may not have been the highlight of the day but it was one encounter closer to understanding and interacting on some level.
So then, what should be the replacement for the word, one without the negative connotations? In a perfect world, this wouldn’t exist. Clearly that’s not the case. I cannot figure out what it would be, but it wouldn’t be r*******.
Life is challenging enough as it is. It shouldn’t be made any worse through the repeated slur for all the wrong reasons. It is never cool and never will be cool to use. People, living human beings, are hurt every time it is used. Just don’t use it. Ever.