old country house blog


When I was a kid,
and I would tell someone I had a Retarded brother…
they would say things like…
“Wow, you don’t SEEM like you have a Retarded brother!”
My older brother Reve,  is Mentally Retarded.

It was a birth accident, something about a difficult delivery and
a country Doctor and the missuse of forceps.
He was their first..my parents were both in their early twenties and
my father was still in college.
They did not know…what they did not know,
He was just their baby boy.
Some kids start slow.
He was not diagnosed until he was 3.
…..and his baby sister was already talking…while he still
was not.

There were no lawsuits…we just lived our life.
It was our family.
I knew no different.
My brother played in the yard with the rest of us
….if he was “out” in dodge ball…he was “out”.
He went to a Special School with other kids like himself
and special camp and the Special Olympics.

I tell you this story, 
not because I want sympathy or admiration…
 but  because lately…
it seems everywhere I go…
…in the movies, on playgrounds, at the water fountain and out of teacher’s mouths,
on reality shows and in the coffee shops and on the playing field….
The word 
is being used to describe everything but what it really means…
And on top of that… it is used to describe BAD things; mistakes, bumbles… 

See, that word , “Mentally Retarded”, is what my brother IS….
and he cannot change that,

….like if you are Italian or Tall. 
 And my brother is not BAD nor is his existence anything but 
A blessing to those of us fortunate enough to know him. 

He has brain damage…but he is far from stupid. 
In fact, I believe it was Reve who was also the first one in our house to do the
 Rubics cube.


Phoebe Holmes, at Herding Cats did an excellent post last year
on this very topic…and I encourage you to read it, she herself has a retarded child
and is all too familiar with the “R” word.
So,  if you lose your keys, or drop your latte, or forget your wallet…
 turn on the wrong street,  call someone the wrong name,
forget to feed the cat or to mail the bills…..
If you make a mistake…
use a different word… 
Thank you Very Much. 

19 thoughts on “THE "R" WORD

  1. Lesli, I totally agree here! I have an older brother who has MR due to insufficient oxygen during delivery and 2 other siblings with autism. My family is very sensitive to the use of derogatory name calling and cringe whenever we hear people using those words. Good luck on your art showing. You are very talented and I can wish I could paint like you (paint by number more my speed!).

  2. This brought tears to my eyes, Lesli. I know several people that use the “R” word..I’m posting this on my wall for others to see & hopefully make them think before they use it in a derogatory way.

  3. I think in the US, it’s a bit more common to use the word Retarded to describe the actual condition that a person has, like your brother. In Canada, only people who are uneducated, crass and thoughtless would use that word. Here, we say things like, “Developmentally Delayed”.

    I’m not saying this to criticize your usage…in fact, the word actually means “slow or delayed”, which is the perfect description of the condition. However, it’s been used incorrectly and harshly for so long that it’s been turned into something it isn’t.

    I think you’re quite right to be ‘taking it back’.

    This is a really good and thoughtful post and I’ll be sharing it with others!

    1. Carol- Anne, you bring up an excellent point…what should we call it? I call my brother MR because that is what he is and has been to me his whole life…but Mostly I just call him Reve, sometimes “Steve” when I am teasing. He calls me “Les”.

  4. Well that just shows how ignorant people really are… because if you actually took time to get to know some of these people that are “retarded” you’ll see that they sometimes have abilities that go beyond even our own, especially when it comes to love.

  5. Lesli,
    I was young during that time but remember well – and you are right – the disability Reve has was due to “a high forcep delivery in a small college town.” As their aunt and knowing them from birth, I have always had a strong love in my heart for Reve and you all. The “R” word is derogatory and reflects back on the person who spoke it, not on the recipient (even though we all know how words can hurt us). Reve is exactly how God made him – and he has gifts and talents just as we all do. Thank you for posting this.

  6. I have always hated the use of that word as a derogative. Maybe because I have a cousin who IS retarded, and real, and robust, and remarkable. Incorrect use of the word is indicative of a refusal to feel compassion for all of God’s children. Yes, I said refusal – it is a choice to be compassionate or unfeeling.

  7. My Granddaughter was born with Aicardia, a condition which results in mental retardation…inability to sit up unaided, speak, roll over, crawl, walk, use of your hands or arms and very limited vision. Yet Aliyah was the epitome of a perfect child teaching all who knew her the true meaning of love. She knew us all by our voice, and hearing our greetings elicited the biggest smile on her face. She loved music, sleeping between me and her Pa Charlie, baths in the garden tub, having her hair blown dry, and cuddling. She united our already-close-knit family, humbled us, and our lives drew near to God because of her very existence. She left this world two months after her 6th birthday, and we all envision her running, playing, singing and riding a purple bicycle. When I hear the “R” word used (as it frequently is), I cringe and have the urge to immediately correct. It is a poor description of whatever situation is being described just like cursing usually reflects a limited vocabulary. Because of the derogatory connotation, I never thought of Aliyah as mentally retarded although, as pointed out in a previous post, that is the correct definition to describe her “condition”. When asked about my grandchild, I always use the phrase “special needs child”, because she was, indeed, SPECIAL. Everything about Aliyah was special, she had needs like we all do, she was and will always be our child. I love and miss her so much, and I will will be forever grateful for her love and profound effect on our lives.

    1. Thank you for sharing about your beautiful Grand Daughter. I am so sorry she is no longer with you, but as you describe her I can tell she is “ALWAYS” a part of you and yes, you were blessed. The thing that gives me hope about the “r” word is that I never had anyone ever KNOW my brother and then be mean, often if a person knows an actual “special” child, they themselves GET how amazing they are and then, never think about using that word in a hurtful way. I always have hope. Thank you.

  8. You are so right. I’ve always hated that word used incorrectly. We need to be more sensitive to what words might mean to others!

  9. I am always happy to see when people take a stand against the “R” word being used as slang or insult. I am even happier when people don’t use the word at all. The new term is “intellectual and developmental disability” I like that you call your brother by his name. I bet Reve would appreciate if you were to reconsider how you describe him to others as your “retarded brother”. Anonymous, there is no correct way to use the word “retard.” It is a word that has no place anywhere. When using that word to describe someone who has a diagnosis, the person actually becomes pigeonholed into the very negative stereotype that you may be trying to have them not be categorized in. Please, please, please learn about “People First Language”. A diagnosis is something that someone HAS; not what someone IS (like how people have the flu…they aren’t flued).


    1. I hear and appreciate your suggestion to refer to my brother in the new improved more “People first: language and it is indeed something to think about, but it implies, to me anyway, that there is something wrong with what he has always been to me, which is Mentally Retarded. See, I have never seen that word as a bad ugly word, it is how my brother was diagnosed at the age of 3 and who he has been to me. My only issue is the use of the word, as a mean slur to belittle or degrade someone, therefore, taking who my brother is to me, and make it essentially a bad word. But I will digest your words. And I value your time in sharing them with me.

  10. Absolutely there is nothing wrong for someone to have a disability. I hope that you don’t think I am trying to judge or slam you in any way…I know how things can get dicey over the internet!

    Thank you for your explanation! I understand. I guess…I just feel like if that word is used at all, it gives other people liberty to use it how they see fit. It’s kind of difficult to say “Oh man! I didn’t charge my phone, that was so intellectually disabled.”

    There is a lot of heart-wrenching history and negative associations with the “R” word (sidenote, did you know that “moron”, “idiot” and “imbecile” were actual medical/clinical words used to diagnose, place and treat individuals? “Mentally retarded” replaced those words as a diagnosis…and now it is “intellectual disability”); instead of trying to gain the “R” word back, why not start fresh? SHOW people that individuals with disabilities are just that. Individuals that have some disability related needs that require support in order for them to reach their dreams, goals, outcomes…

    My younger sister has Down Syndrome and I work for an organization that provides supports and services to individuals with disabilities. We are person centered and help come up with social roles for individuals and opportunities for them to contribute to their community and share their strengths. Interests and dreams help define who people are. Diagnoses help us ensure that they have proper support.

    My sister is a volunteer, a zumba enthusiast, (when strumming her guitar and singing in her room) a Hannah Montana-level rock star, a swimmer, a cook (she seriously makes the best pancakes), a friend, a social butterfly, a bar hopper, a dancer, a daughter, a sister/partner in crime, etc… She just also happens to have a support person with her to help her do some of these things because she has disability related needs.

    You are a wife, a mother, a homeowner, a blogger, an artist, a designer, a decorator…I just took a second to read “The Artist” page! What amazing things you have experienced and have accomplished! I noticed that it doesn’t say anywhere about you being “typically developed.”

    I do see your point now, about how when the “R” word is used as a slur, it infers that your brother is somehow bad. I can guarantee there are many other descriptive words that can be used to identify your brother. And I can guarantee there are many other traits, skills, strengths that come to mind when you think of him and who he is to you outside of his diagnosis (Rubics cube mastermind???). More importantly, how does Reve want to be defined? How does he view himself? Who does he want to be to you?

    I do appreciate you taking the time to read all of this. I hope it is not taken negatively or perceived as an attack.

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