“Re-tar-da-tion ¬– noun: 1. The act of retarding or state of being retarded. 2. Something that retards; hindrance. 3. Slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.”
It is important to know the dictionary definition of the word “retardation” before initiating any discussion about the use of the word in today’s society. It might also help to put some historical context to just how the word evolved from an actual clinical definition to a schoolyard insult.
It is not unlike the endless debate over guns and whether we should be allowed to possess them. Opponents argue guns kill. Others, this writer included, counter that a gun is an inanimate object incapable of performing any task on its own. Only when the warm-blooded hand of its operator is wrapped around the handle and trigger does any gun turn from curiosity to potentially deadly weapon.
The same could be said for the word “retardation” or “retarded.” By its textbook definition, the word itself is harmless. Through the not-thought-out intentions of juveniles looking to demean others, the word became hurtful. People started calling each other “retards.” Some, perhaps in a precursor to this abridged, text-happy nation of ours, preferred “tard.”
Even as the word was being used as a bullying taunt, we had such established and well-intended institutions as the Department of Mental Retardation, changed last year to the Department of Developmental Services.
Earlier this month, Gov. Deval Patrick signed “An Act Eliminating the Word ‘Retardation’ from the General Laws.” The term “mental retardation” was replaced with “intellectual disabilities or disability.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “intellectual disability is characterized both by a significantly below-average score on a test of mental ability or intelligence and by limitations in the ability to function in areas of daily life, such as communication, self-care, and getting along in social situations and school activities. Intellectual disability is sometimes referred to as a cognitive disability or mental retardation.”
Referred to by whom? One can assume not by school yard bullies, but rather medical and other professionals.
In the shadows of Beacon Hill, far west of Route 495, we have the SWARC, which in its long form stands for Southern Worcester County Association for Retarded Citizens. Otherwise known as the Center of Hope, the Southbridge, Mass.-based organization serves children and adults with an array of varying disabilities.
Needless to say, board members there overwhelmingly supported the DMR’s name change last year. It can be reasonably assumed they share a similar view of the governor’s new bill.
The argument here is not that we should incorporate the words “retardation” or “retard” into everyday conversation, but rather that we should reverse the disturbing trend to over-think and over-legislate everything. We should avoid taking the responsibility for education away from parents.
Perhaps the governor should enact “An Act Requiring Parents to Do Their Parental Duties by Teaching Their Children Proper Behavior.”
Those behind the bill are well-intended. In the words of state Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, as quoted on the governor’s website, they want to educate folks about “… the harm that labels can cause.”
In this case, however, it isn’t education – it is legislation of what’s right and wrong. Education, after all, does not require a bill being signed into law. On Beacon Hill, some lawmakers sit at their desks and, with the swipe of a pen, decide what we are and are not capable of as individuals.