When I was in elementary school some 25 years ago there was a girl with Down Syndrome that I used to help out with in the lunch room. I didn’t know then that there was a name for her disabilities. I didn’t know what made her different. And I didn’t fully understand why I only saw her at lunch. I would carry her tray for her though. We would eat lunch together and then off we went our separate ways. She to her special ed class and me to my regular class.
I don’t really remember the girls name. I don’t know where she went after elementary school. I never associated with her outside of that school setting and back then just 25 years ago she was a retard. That was the name given to children like her, not out of meanness, but because that was what she was referred to as.
If I were a kid today that very same girl would be in class with me. I wouldn’t just see her at lunch and never know anything about her except that she chews with her mouth open. And now using the word retard would get my mouth washed out with soap.
We Can Do More
Twenty five years, that’s some progression and I’m proud to see it, but we still need to do more. So many kids are mainstreamed into the classroom now. So many different disabilities and pull outs happening that no one really notices a difference. A para in the classroom almost seems to have become normal. The pullouts are really just a part of everyday. Even my own daughter gets pulled out everyday for extra reading help. So it makes it much easier, but there are still so many struggles. There’s still a lot of misunderstandings. There is still a lot of people who use the word retard. People in the public eye and people that we know and love. We need to take a stand.
I think I heard my kids use the R-word once. It’s not a word we ever say around here so I know they heard it from someone in school. So I asked them about it an explained to them the negative connotations behind the word. Then I reminded them of our little friend Kennedy. Who sadly we have not seen in 4 years because they live on the other side of the country, but my big girls remember this beautiful little girl who was no different than them. Her brothers and sister loved her just as much as they loved each of their own siblings. As soon as I mentioned Kennedy the realization that this little girl was what would have been considered retarded and cast aside and separated from her peers just 25 years ago when I was in school they realized that this was a word they did not want to use. Because it does not describe Kennedy. So using the R-word when they or someone else does something stupid became hurtful.
And I have asked them to stand up for all of the Kennedy’s out there. To tell their classmates not to use the R-word. I hope they are spreading the word and that when they are my age it will be used much less freely in our language. I won’t tolerate the use of that word from anyone I know and I will educate them as to why it’s harmful. Even when we are just calling ourselves the R-word or something we did is the R-word. It’s the negative connotations that the word conjures up. We are better than that.
Maybe with a little more knowledge we can all do better. More understanding of disabilities. Of Down Syndrome. Of the fact that Down Syndrome is not a disease. Down Syndrome is a part of a person’s genetic make up just like you might have blue eyes and blonde hair. It’s not going away. It’s something that they will live with for the rest of their lives and it’s not a death sentence. It doesn’t even mean that they can’t become productive members of society.
It makes us uncomfortable I think to see the struggles because we don’t understand. Once you understand though you might begin to feel differently. Once you see that they have strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us you might see things differently. Better still is knowing someone with Down Syndrome. What a special gift that is. But in case you don’t have a Kennedy in your life, then this is a great video. Watch it with your kids too.
Now that you have seen this are you ready to spread the word about inclusion and acceptance?