The R-word Hurts
by Gail Bass
Gail Bass of Charlotte is the mother of seven children and four are Special Olympics Cabarrus County athletes. She has seen and felt the painful effects of the r-word. Her words remind us that words do have power and to choose those words wisely.
My daughter had a very difficult time in middle school and high school. She was often called lazy and dumb by her teachers and classmates. I knew she had learning disabilities in a lot of educational areas. We invested a lot of time and energy into fighting for her rights. It was a difficult and stressful battle. The school just couldn’t accept the fact that because she “looked” so normal she could possibly have disabilities. I was her biggest advocate and I never gave up the fight. It felt like my life was one big IEP plan. As a mother, I knew her capacity for learning but unfortunately the school did not. I knew she was not “dumb” or “lazy”.
She became very withdrawn and knew she was different and not learning like her classmates. She had very few friends because she was not accepted by her teachers or classmates. Sometimes when her classmates wanted to hurt and degrade her they would say she was retarded. She came home from school many days crying and said she didn’t want to go back. I could see the hurt in her innocent face and it broke my heart. It seemed like I had to educate the entire school about the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. Eventually her teachers realized she could learn just at a slower pace. Their unreasonable expectations softened. But the damage had been done. My daughter’s self confidence had been destroyed and my respect for these teachers had been lost.
Society can be so cruel and insulting at times. My daughter only wanted to be accepted and respected by her teachers and classmates. Being called retarded really scarred her. She was convinced she was dumb and couldn’t do anything right. In my heart, I felt like I wanted to personally educate everyone in her school about how damaging the r-word is and how it can destroy a person’s life.
In time, my daughter accepted her disability, embraced her abilities and formed many friendships thanks to her involvement in Special Olympics. She has found her place of acceptance and realized she isn’t the only person with a disability. Her self confidence began to soar and today she has many great accomplishments under her belt. Her dream came true when she was selected to compete in track & field at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece. And to top off her selection, she brought home gold from Greece!
I hope I never hear the r-word again because I know personally how cruel and hurtful the word can be. I can only hope that another child doesn’t have to go through the pain my daughter endured. And I hope in the future all people with intellectual disabilities will be accepted and respected not just within Special Olympics but everywhere.
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