Why I Hate the Word "Retarted"

February 18, 2010
"Ok, that's ridiculous. How retarted is that?"

Up until a little while ago, this would seem like a normal statement for me to use. Seldom did I think about the meaning behind the crude usage of this word, and how it can hurt people and tear them apart all in a few syllables.

I recently went to a school for the handicapped to do an art project with about 10 students. I was extremely excited as I entered the school with two teachers and about nine other girls were were accompanying me. I had an idealistic picture in my head of me assisting small children with gluing paper hearts onto a bag, taking adorable pictures and treasuring those memories in my heart for years. Once I found out how old the kids were (15-20) I was apprehensive. Not because I didn't want to do it; in fact, I plowed right into that school to meet the principal and get started with the project. But because I was worried my perfect vision would be ruined, that I would walk away disappointed.

Now, you're probably expecting me to go on about how I knew right away which person I should be assigned, and that we cliqued just like that. But I'm ashamed to admit that its not how it turned out. I cringe at the face that I judged mere seconds after entering the room. My thoughts were something along these lines, "I hope I get that girl. He looks weird. I hope I don't get him." Scrutinize me and criticize me. It was my absolute first instinct, which is kind of sad, but I think you would find yourself thinking the same thing if you were in my situation.

I was assigned a girl named Lesley who was very quiet and needed my assistance in glueing. Her teacher informed me Lesley was a "wanderer" and she wasn't lying. Every couple minutes, Lesley would get up and roam around, and I would have to guide her back to her seat to finish the art project. I still don't know how old Lesley is. She could be 15, she could be 18. But it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that she needed my help, and she couldn't, in any way, control that fact. Lesley was born mentally handicapped, and it isn't something that's easy for her to deal with. At the end of the day, I had received hugs, air kisses, high fives, and linked arms with a number of kids I had only met less than an hour before. The amount of love and gratitude these people showed us when we had just barely met them astounded me. From Tyler, who was quiet at first, but by the end was blowing you kisses and holding your hands, to Hannah, who was as spastic as can be and hugged you the moment she saw you, each of the faces of these incredible people will be engraved in my mind, and my heart, forever. Now that I've seen it first hand, people that are mentally unstable, I don't think that I will ever hear the word 'retarted' again without wanting to unleash my wrath, whtether it be on myself, if it accidentally slips out, or some random middle schooler who says it in the hallway. Through 10 kids who I was with for 60 minutes, I have now seen it. How cliche this might sound, but they have changed my life. Not everything about it, but my thoughts on this topic and the understanding I now have gained about what mentally disabled people are like. They're like kids, they love you no matter what, and they smile in the face of trouble. Smile in the face of a world where we can't seem to go five minutes without saying 'retarted'. Which is what they are. When I read that sentence back to myself, it sounds like I'm calling them stupid. But, no, that is the tag we as a nation have put on the word. We use it in place of 'stupid'. But when I say they are retarted, I mean they really are mentally retarted. And whether you mean to our not, whenever you say 'that's retarted' you are saying retarted people are stupid. And they're far from it. In fact, they have a far better outlook on life than lots of adults, even some of their teachers. I learned from them, in 60 minutes, and that, I tell you, is NOT stupid.

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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Sarbear This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm
Wow, that's really good. I've always hated it when people insult others with this word. and it's not like your just insulting one person, your insulting millions of other mentally retarted ppl in the world. I wish everyone would read this and learn the truth in your story .Pleas check out my poems, too.
Sarbear This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm
Wow, I'm glad another young person understands that calling someone retarded isn't just like insulting that particular person, it's actually like insulting millions of mentally retarded people. I wish everyone could read this, so we could all realize the truth in your story. Please check out some of my poems too.
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