Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Power of Words

By now you might be wondering why I am obsessed about this r-word thing. You may be thinking, what is the big deal? Karyn, aren’t you being a bit sensitive? Okay, I admit that I am biased. I have a vested interest in this. But I do think use of the r-word needs to be taken more seriously. Even before I had Quinn, I had to occasionally use the diagnostic term from the DSM-IV-TR (used by psychologists and psychiatrists), which is diagnostically called Mental Retardation. Every time I said that term, I felt a twinge in my stomach. It is just a term that is centered and built on such a difficult history – something I talked about in previous posts related to past institutionalization and stigma of families with children with cognitive disabilities. In my profession, I always leaned to saying “MR” or saying Cognitive Disability (the term used in the school systems in my State). It is my opinion that the American Association of Psychiatry (who publishes the DSM-IV-TR) needs to change the diagnostic term Mental Retardation to something more appropriate in their next revision. The r-word has turned into a slang term, used in jokes, insults, etc. It is about time my profession does something about this issue and use a more sensitive term. The APA took homosexuality out of the previous editions DSM because of how society changed, and APA also changed the term Manic-Depressive to Bipolar Disorder, so why aren’t they doing anything about MR? That would be a nice first step, but more needs to be done.

I was at a meeting with the other clinical staff from work not so long ago. In the meeting, people started to use the r-word, or retarded, to talk about a client. It was like I was being stabbed in the chest over and over again. I looked around the room wondering why can’t we see how these words impact people? Why can’t my own profession get their act together? And then I mustered up the courage to speak out and say, “Can we please use the appropriate diagnostic term MR or Cognitive Disability?” One of the individuals who said the r-word in the meeting approached me after to say that he was sorry and he will be more aware of the words he uses. He didn’t do this to intentionally be hurtful; it was just out of ignorance or just not thinking at the moment. I am sure others felt uncomfortable during that discussion. How many times as people do we not say something because we don’t want to be bothered or stand out? Instead we just sit there and think in our minds that something isn’t right. We don’t want to rock the boat, so why speak out that this word isn’t appropriate? They will stop using it soon enough, so why say anything? Well I just can’t do that anymore. I have a little girl at home who is counting on me to do the right thing. Something has to change for her to have a better life. Do you know that the Special Olympics conducted research on how people see individuals with cognitive disabilities? In their Multi-National Public Opinion Study of Attitudes toward People with Intellectual Disabilities they actually found throughout the world that a large percentage of people still believe that people with cognitive disabilities should be segregated in the schools and workplace. This is my daughter they are talking about. Words reflect our society’s attitudes and I so hope that you don’t join a lot of people and just stand by and watch when a group of people who have not harmed a soul and have a heart as pure as gold get picked on, put down, or treated insensitively whether it is because of ignorance or hatred. Please please please say something the next time you hear the r-word used, whether it be by a group of professionals or a group of teens. Please start discussions about the use of the r-word and how it needs to change. Maybe show them some of the resources I have on here. Please.

Lastly, I must say that I love Soeren Palumbo. Every time I see him I think of how someday Riley and Aidan may be like him, giving such beautiful speeches and loving their sister so much. I have posted about him before. I came across another speech he made called the Power of Words (hence my title). I have the link below. Please go to this page and view this speech. It is similar, yet different, than the other one. He talks about an actual situation he has been in with his sister, being in a store and seeing others make fun of his sister, calling her the r-word. Think this doesn’t happen? Think again. One person actually said that they hate it when the “r-word“ are allowed in THEIR store. Sound like another hateful time in our history, doesn’t it? But the worst part was that nobody who heard this reacted. They just continued on doing their shopping like this is an everyday occurrence. Please don’t fall into this group of people who do nothing. By doing nothing you are making it okay to treat people in a hurtful manner.


1 comment:

  1. I hadn't seen that one. Thanks for sharing it. Isn't he something? I too look to the future and see Sophie's siblings standing up for her. Maybe by the time Alexander is in high school, we will have effected enough change that this level of advocacy won't be needed.