Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Things People Say

I won't pretend to be the first person to blog on this subject. In fact, I have read so many posts on this subject and all have left me seething mad and shaking my head. Moms and Dad of multiples, of children with special needs, with visible deformities, of children of mixed race, of children who are taller or smaller than their age; all have likely faced the challenge of meeting people, who by either ignorance or maliciousness make comments that leave a sting that doesn't easily fade.

We've heard a few. Some that are the most hurtful are the ones that aren't spoken.

- my kids are a danger to their peers and those other children need to be protected from them
- at the moment of discovery that a child is 'retarded', they should be euthanized because they are just a drain on society
- my children have autism as a result of my not nursing them, or because having three children so close together caused me to neglect them, or because I must have been a frigid mother (all three of these comments came from the same woman while at a fundraising event to support the twins!)
- a skeptic (I think she was doubtful that autism is even a real diagnosis) who knew me well, claimed that if I only spent a bit more time working at it, it shouldn't be hard to get the kids to talk
- my children are a bad influence on other children
- just give them a smack and they'll learn better behaviour
- they'd be better off in a group home or institution

I'm not a newbie at this. The boys have been diagnosed for over five years now so I should be used to the comments. But I'm not. In fact, I am probably that much more defensive of the underdog as the years go on. I truly can feel compassion for people's discomfort when they struggle to find the right words when referring to my children's differences. Even five years ago, autism wasn't a word that everyone had heard of. What I don't understand, is how a person can call themselves a compassionate person, and continue to use words that are hurtful, or who choose to offer their opinion to a stranger without invitation or who think that my children are not as worthy as a typical child. I am intolerant of any and all insults and take special offense to the cavalier use of the words and expressions, "that's so gay" or "you're retarded". I can't understand why people can't wrap their heads around the idea that those comments may be offensive to someone. Short bus jokes are not funny. If there is someone out there who may take offense, then don't tell it. Particularly if the subject of your 'not-so-funny joke' is of a vulnerable population and cannot defend themselves or tell you why it hurts them. And probably the greatest crime of all, is how someone could choose to defend their behaviour and continue to speak in this way.

It is so beautifully put by actor, John C. McGinley:

Ignorance is bliss. If you are one of those people who fall into this category, if you thought it was just a joke, or that your comments weren't intended to do harm, or that your opinions were not meant to be taken too seriously, I'll forgive you. But after reading this, you are no longer ignorant.

Now you know.

Particularly, if you use the word retarded, it hurts me. It hurts my 9 year old son, who has heard that word used to insult his two brothers. It hurts my husband who doesn't know what to do with his feeling of helplessness, when he can't do anything to protect his children. It hurts Will and 0wen.

Now you know. Please choose your words more thoughtfully.

1 comment:

Dan said...

The question I have is how long before the derogatory meaning of the old R word comes to mar the newer PC variants. It seems that any word can gather negative connotations if used badly.

It seems we can adapt any word to hurt others, which is really sad.

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