Mental Disabilities are not adjectives

Sarah Doiron

“Look at that retard,” I heard someone snicker. “She is taking up the whole hallway.”

As a freshman in highschool I had heard that term used before in conversation, but this time it was directed at my severely autistic sister.

Needless to say, I approached the kid and told him I was her sister and what he said was inappropriate and rude.

Standing up for my sister that day made me realize many things about the word retard and about people with special needs.

A person with mental retardation has, “below-average intelligence or mental ability as well as a lack of skills necessary for day-to-day living,” according to WebMD.

My younger sister Emily was diagnosed with severe autism at age two. My parents were devastated to learn that my sister may not be able to communicate with others for the rest of her life.

Autism is a spectrum disorder related to brain development, according to the Autism Speaks website.The website states that Autism affects three million people in the United States and 10 million worldwide.

The website goes on to explain that the disorders are characterized in varying degrees in regards to difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

My mother took action immediately after the diagnosis. She read books on autism, she spoke to specialists, she set my sister up with speech therapists. By age 5, my sister said her first words. It was a miracle.

It hasn’t been easy on my family. My sister has behavioral issues where she cannot communicate when she is upset. She will freak out either at home or in public and have to be restrained. Since the diagnosis, I have had strange people coming into my house as “one on one” workers to help with my sister.

Throughout my childhood it was hard to explain to my friends what was wrong with my sister. I often felt embarrassed and worried my friends would make fun of her. Thankfully it turned out all of my friends loved my sister and still do.

While there are difficult times, there are also rewarding times. My sister loves to sing and she entertains us with her songs and dances. She brightens my day whenever I go home to visit and I love to hear her laugh.

When I think of the word retard, I don’t think of somebody who is stupid or socially unaccepted. It is a disability and plenty of people suffer from it worldwide. It does not make them bad people, they just need more time to process information.

The day I overheard somebody make fun of my sister, I was furious. But it also taught me a valuable lesson. The word retard shouldn’t be used as an insult. It’s not meant for conversations or joking with friends.

That word hurts not only a person’s ears but a person’s heart. When used as an insult, retarded is degrading and demoralizing. People with mental disabilities are humans too and should be treated with the same respect you show loved ones.

Next time you use the word retard as an insult to a friend or talking about someone you hate, think twice. You never know who you could be offending and you never know how close to home you are going to hit.

I love my sister. I will always love my sister. She brightens my world and has taught me a lot about life I never would have noticed if I did not have her to learn from.While my sister may not understand what the word means, it hurts me as her sister more than anything to hear people use it negatively.