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Giving The Respect That They Deserve

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Think of a person who has a disease. Maybe you imagine a person in a hospital gown about to get surgery. Or you might, perhaps, picture somebody with cancer about to get chemotherapy. Now imagine a healthy person approaching one of the unfortunate individuals who have been plagued by an illness. They will most likely treat them with sympathy and respect, while feeling sad for these individuals who are fighting these illnesses. However, there are people with certain illnesses that are less likely to receive this respect. These are the individuals who are the victims of neurological and mental illnesses.

Why are these people prone to getting so much disrespect? Only because we cannot see the effects of their disease on the sufferers’ bodies, does it mean that it is not a disease? The brain, just like nearly any other organ in the body, is capable of being diseased, whether the disease is congenital or manifests itself during the person’s life. It is illogical then to refer to patients with diseases such as Autism and Down's Syndrome with slurs when we would never think to degrade a heart disease patient in such a manner. The difference is only the body part which is diseased, but the offense towards a neurological or psychiatric patient is much higher.

This refers also to patients with less severe conditions, from those prevalent in the school setting like learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder, to those affecting a person’s life, such as anxiety disorders and personality disorders. Although these conditions are undoubtedly not at the same level of severity as cancer, per say, they are still to be treated and their victims should still be regarded with the respect they deserve. This offense towards those with these conditions is expressed by all kinds of people. Even some teachers indirectly offend students with learning disabilities, by tending to favor students’ intelligence over hard work, thus putting the learning-disabled students, who may work the hardest, at the bottom of the spectrum. Similarly, even polite people sometimes make jokes involving psychiatric wards and “insane” asylums. These are derogatory and should simply not be made.

There are laws in the United States against discrimination. This affects those with intellectual and mental disabilities, in addition to those with any other disabilities, or of any race, gender, and religion. This means that by law, patients with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses should not be discriminated against. Our society has extended these laws to stopping the use of slurs. While words such as “fag” and the n-word are widely accepted as derogatory and there has been significant decline in usage of words such as this, there is one word carelessly thrown around that may be equally offensive, if not more so. This is the word “retarded”. The word “retarded” is said very often these days, often without thinking of its meaning. Many people-- especially, but not exclusively, youth— use this word to mean “stupid” or “dense” when referring to either a person or even an object. The root of the word retarded is -tard- , which in Latin means “slow” or “late”. Those with neurological disorders which affect their cognition, behavior, and social aptitude were originally referred to as having “mental retardation”. Due to the offensive misuse of this term, it is being replaced with other terms, such as “intellectual disability”. Patients were called retarded because they were developing slower than a normal human is supposed to develop. Many people, however, don’t even think of this. It frequently doesn’t come to the mind of ordinary people that they are blessed with the health that they have and that there are those less fortunate who are slower in developing. However, even though there are many who are aware of the hurt that they are causing by using this word, they are too indifferent to stop this behavior. For this reason, the “R-Word” Campaign, which is sponsored by Special Olympics, Inc. and is aimed to prevent people from using the word “retarded”, was started.

Therefore, it is our job to treat neurological and psychiatric patients with the respect that they deserve. It is not okay to debase and humiliate patients who are already dealing with many challenges and some for whom it is nearly impossible to participate in a normal life. Rather, we should look at them with admiration for what they are trying to make out of their somewhat limiting lives. Whether it is an intellectually disabled student working hours to achieve academically, or an ambitious Special Olympic athlete, or a teen with Asperger’s Disorder making a large effort to learn social skills and make friends, we should be proud of them for what they have accomplished and what they continue to accomplish. By changing our speech and attitude, we can influence those around us to also change their speech and attitude to respectful, rather than demeaning, of sufferers of mental or neurological disease.



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Naomi518 said...
Oct. 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm
amazing! <3
 
eliana375 replied...
Oct. 27, 2011 at 12:03 am
thanks!! :)
 
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