Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is This Offensive? Weigh in!

I think most of us in the special needs community will agree that the words we use are very important. There have been epic take downs of celebrity tweeters who misuse words that we have come to know as a diagnosis for our children, ourselves or someone we care about.  We advocate about being sensitive to others by choosing to use our words carefully and without malice.  So, we all know that the use of the R word is considered offensive, but what about the terms we used to use before the R word came into standard diagnostic use?

Do you know what those words are? I didn't, until I read something about it on Homestyle Mama (with a side of autism) page .  That was several months ago, but it has stayed with me, as I have tried to evaluate what the information meant to me and what, if anything, I wanted to do about it.

Here is some snippets from the this page that I have copied and pasted:

"Specifically, those who have an IQ between 0 and 25 are idiots; IQs between 26 and 50 are considered imbeciles; and those who have an IQ between 51 and 70 are considered morons.
These terms were popular in psychology as associated with intelligence on an IQ test until around the 1960s.  They were then replaced with the terms mild retardation, moderate retardation, severe retardation, and profound retardation.  In addition to this, other factors besides IQ are now used in diagnosing these levels of mental deficiency."

So you may think, hey, but we don't use those words anymore to diagnose people, so what's the problem? Well, one issue is that the people diagnosed with these conditions prior to 1960 who are still alive (and I know of one family member that is) probably still carry this diagnosis in their file.  They are still labeled as one of those words, as well as this fact:

" In Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Ohio, idiots don’t have the right to vote."

And this fact as recent as 2007:

" California, idiots are one of six types of people who are not capable of committing any form of crime.  In 2007 the term “idiot” was replace with “persons who are mentally incapacitated” in the California legal wording of the penal code on this issue."

This part of the article is the crux of the matter to me:

" Ironically, the term retarded was used to replace the terms idiot, moron, and imbecile due to the fact that these terms gradually became thought of as derogatory.  This obviously only worked for a while and now “retarded” is itself considered a derogatory term.  It seems any word that basically means “low intelligence” is fated to be thought of as derogatory eventually.  So it’s only a matter of time before politically correct terms like “mentally handicapped” will come to be derogatory themselves."

How many times can we keep changing terms that we use to describe or diagnose those with intellectual disabilities? I know that I never use the R word, as I do find it highly offensive.  I have a child that has that word sprinkled all over his first report at the developmental pediatrician.  I'd never mock him that way. But,should I not also ban the other words from my vocabulary as well?  They are mocking others, too.  They are offensive to the mothers that lived before us.  There are still people alive that have that word in their reports from when they were children.  How long will it be before it will be acceptable for people to begin using the R word again to describe bad, or "dumb" things?  Should it ever make a comeback and if not, then would it stand to reason the others words are disrespectful, as well?


18 comments:

  1. "They are offensive to the mothers that lived before us. There are still people alive that have that word in their reports as children." Wow, I never thought of it that way. I will now. Thanks (:

    ReplyDelete
  2. Discourse and disability are very interesting topics to me.
    Words hold specific meanings dependent on time and space. Cultural sensitivity is crucial. My mother used the R word the other day and I gave her an education immediately, but in a nursing home when a resident used it specifically to describe her sons diagnosis, I listened to her story with respect.
    The words are being used in two different ways to describe very specific things, my mother was mocking a childs development, the elderly woman was describing the difficulties she faced raising her child with the language she had to do so.
    It's all about context and I think that matters, we cant make global rules about language because language is culturally specific.
    ox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, but do you think that saying someone is 'an idiot' for cutting you off in traffic, or is a "moron" because they aren't using what we might refer to as common sense, thus inconveniencing you? Those words are used in a derogatory manner, but few people think of them anymore as meaning what they originally meant, just as here in 20 yrs no one will probably remember (except special needs parents) that the r word was once a diagnostic term meaning mentally disabled. I don't personally care of someone uses the r word correctly, though some people get offended by it. If used as a diagnostic term, then I'm fine with it.

      Delete
    2. Over time language changes and words loose their power as we gain familiarity with them. So if someone called me an idiot I would probably shrug my shoulders and walk away. But I can imagine that, that would have been highly offensive a few decades ago. So I guess it comes down to what we should do for a label when faced with a person that challenges us? How can you express that you are challenged by someone without using words that offend, if the point is sometimes to do just that? I don't respect those words as diagnostic labels because they have not meant that in my life time, but if I was aware that my use of them caused offence to someone, I would cut them out and quickly. (Having said all that when someone drives dangerously my language is way more likely to offend the general public than the specific words we are discussing here)

      Delete
  3. I do genealogy research into my family's history and I have seen the census cards they filled out back around the turn of the century, over a hundred years ago. There are several check boxes on those old census cards, and they indicate whether the person was married, widowed, single, divorced, blind, deaf, insane or an idiot. I was surprised to see those last two on there. That was more than 100 years ago, when psychology was very new. Here is a link to a photo of my great great grandmother's 1915 census card. Notice the check boxes along the left column. http://aspiekid.net/images/maryhantelmann1915censusia.jpg

    Also, you bring up a very good point as it relates to neurodiversity when you ask "How many times can we keep changing terms that we use to describe or diagnose those with intellectual disabilities?" Especially as autism has become the center of focus in the last several years. I wonder how long it will be before the A-word becomes the new R-word.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I worry about Autistic becoming the next R-word as well, and that has influenced our decision to choose it as our label actually. We hold it up, shamelessly, hoping that the world will catch on.

      Delete
    2. I never knew that census cards were marked that way! I guess when I do ours it does ask about disabilities, if I remember correctly. We can keep renaming it, but it never changes what it is, or the fact that society tends to use any term that belongs to groups of people as insults. I guess the only way to stop it is to take the stigma out of disabilities. As long as it's considered 'bad' to have certain disabilities people will keep using whatever terms we come up to describe them as insults.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am posting my response to my own blog, because it's too long to fit in this comment http://annalisse-mayer.blogspot.com/2012/11/on-changing-names-to-avoid-stigma.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your response. I will share your reply on my page. :)

      Delete
  7. Wow that is enlightening!
    I find that I like the terms differently abled or Neurodiverse:) Those are the terms I like - and really people on the scale have so many gifts to give that the "normal" world does not. I try to isolate my children from it by homeschooling and not having as much interaction with people who categorize but it is tough sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is tough, no matter which way we come at this topic. Thanks for your comment!

      Delete
  8. excellent post! great point - i think for me, it's not so much the word's actual denotation so much as the connotation. and those feelings that are applied to words (another example would be "gay") are what affect how we, as a society, view people labeled with those words.

    I would love to find a way to change people's perspective so that differences are not viewed with fear, negativity, and isolation - speaking as an adult diagnosed with ASD, i have experienced all of those from childhood on. and it is only now, as an adult, that i have the understanding to see what happened to me and to grasp the possibility of why.

    the word(s) used to describe any difference (and i don't view differences as disabilities - i know i am technically, legally, disabled but i don't view myself that way)won't matter as long as society doesn't change how they view differences. my doctor said to me that she does not like diagnosing anyone with ASD b/c there is nothing wrong with people on the spectrum, it is simply that we are the minority in a majority NT world that views us with fear, confusion, and misunderstanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do agree that we are just the minority, as compared to the majority NT population.

      I am hoping that with society growing a greater consciousness, we will evolve to appreciate differences/disabilities more. After all, disabilities are just a naturally occurring difference in what it means to be alive, and human.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  9. Love it. Had to share on my page.

    As far as "Normal" goes .. I tell my kids that that are normal. We're all somewhat different than each other. How do we even come up with the tern Neurotypical? Normal? It really is a setting on a dial.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing! I think that we can use the term NT interchangeably with 'majority', because that is really all it is. I don't always buy the meaning that some try to fit in, while others don't. I can try, but I will never make it. Not only that, I don't want to. I don't see the value in it, just as much as I suppose NTs DO see the value in it. It's valuable to society for us to band together, form groups. It acts like a social cohesion. Unfortunately, it can be just as damaging, though for those social groups to exclude those with differences in ways that marginalize them. The more we can help everyone understand, the less people will fear. I believe fear is what motivates other actions, such as exclusion, hate, and intolerance.

      Delete

If you'd like to follow all comments to this post, please click the 'subscribe by email' link under the comment box. I always reply to every post, and appreciate all feedback. If you have issues getting your comment to post you can email me your comment at inneraspie@yahoo.com. Blogger sometimes loses a comment when the user goes to post, so it is always advisable to highlight and copy your text before hitting the post button.