Spread the word to end the R-Word

The R-word is the word ‘retard(ed)’. Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory.

The “Spread the word to end the R-word campaign” asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions. Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language.

Will you pledge your support?

Click Here

My story:

Matthew is a huge Beatles fan and asked me if we could go to the music store to buy a Revolver CD. He was wearing plaid shorts, a different patterned plaid shirt, white socks and work boots.

“You might want to change your shirt,” I said. “Your plaid shorts would look even better with a plain shirt.”

“I look good,” he replied, “and we’re not going to talk about it anymore.”

When we entered the store, Matthew saw an entire rack dedicated to Beatles music, and ran over to it exuberantly, bumping into another customer-hard.

He apologized profusely as the customer shook his head.

“What are you,” the customer yelled “a retard or something?”

“I give up,” Matthew replied passively.

I guided Matthew to the cash register, careful not to make eye contact with the irate customer. Matthew has always been socially awkward, and while I’m well practiced at unfortunate public scenes like these, they still upset me. I was grateful that at least this time, Matthew seemed oblivious to the conflict.

As we drove away with his music, I convinced myself that Matthew didn’t know that the guy at the music store had insulted him. I shared the story my family, and they laughed.

“Thank God he didn’t get it,” they said.

But when I put my head on my pillow later that night, I knew that on some level Matthew did get it. God only knows how many times he has heard the “R” word.

I thought back to the time when I was a teenager, and I laughed at a weird boy at summer camp who was walking funny, rocking and flapping his hands. The boy’s brother, who was also at the camp, saw me laughing and glared at me, deeply hurt.

I’ll never forget it.

I’ll bet that as soon as that guy at the music store blurted out that awful phrase, he realized that the woman with Matthew was his mother. He would have apologized if he had the chance.

I’ve already forgiven him.


What is you story?


About the author

Laura Shumaker is a nationally recognized writer, autism and disabilities advocate. Her essays have appeared in many places, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR, and in a popular autism and disabilities blog for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s the mother of three terrific sons, and her oldest son, Matthew, is the subject of her book A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism.


  1. says

    Laura, the surprise ending of forgiveness is such a beautiful salve on my heart. Thank you for this and the many times your writing has broadened my thinking about this journey. You are a treasure to so many families.

  2. Denise Lester says

    My father confessed an experience similar to your summer camp memory when my daughter was just a few years old. She had captured him heart and soul well before this time; he nearly melted at the sound of her name. Thus, he broke down into deep, broken sobs when he told me of this transgression of, probably, 50-years ago. I have no doubt that this memory was partially responsible for his beyond-grandparent sensitivity and love for my daughter. We can only hope these individuals, whether their actions were due to immaturity or malicious in nature, will experience some form of redemption in their lifetime, one that will bless a person they might have disparaged in their past.

  3. says

    I shared your story here on my Facebook page. Also, I am posting one thing per day this month on my page, The Gift, http://www.facebook.com/autismisagift, to give “awareness” more meaning. I agree with you wholeheartedly that “awareness is not an actionable enough word.” I shared your thought, “behavior is communication” today, Day 4. Thank you. I found your blog through your article on World Autism Day. I am a writer and mother of Daniel, 5, who has autism. You may have seen him in his viral video, “The Gift,” last month. I just wanted to introduce myself and say hello!

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