“That’s So Retarded” – Why I Stopped Saying This, And You Should Too.


stop saying retarded down syndrome bad word

I’m a work in progress. Every day of my life I hope I’m a better person than the day before. My life is a process of taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back but hey, 1 step forward is still a step forward. So I’ll take it.

“Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me” = One Of The Most Inaccurate Sayings Of All Time

Let me just be very honest for a minute, prior to our son being born I used the word “retarded” pretty flippantly. I would use phrases like “that’s so retarded,” “don’t be retarded,” or “man…I’m so retarded” from time to time without ever even thinking I was using discriminatory language (or hate speech) toward an entire group of people.

This is especially disappointing to me since I’m in a profession where words (and their meanings) are vitally important. I spend hours thinking through the words I use, yet I so quickly let that word flow out of my mouth without even giving 2 seconds of thought to it. Shame on me. (I’ve also said things words “duh” and “lame” which I have also been told are hurtful…I have cut these words out as well.)

Thankfully I know better now.

The “R-Word” Is Hurtful

After our son was born I quickly learned how hurtful and discriminatory the word “retard / retarded” is. There is even an entire campaign called “Spread The Word To End The Word;” in fact today is national “spread the word to end the word” day. (I had no idea this day, or World Down Syndrome Day, even existed prior to Noah being born.)

I remember my jaw hitting the floor when I saw this short, 30 second, PSA for the first time. Please take 30 seconds and watch it. I promise you’ll think about the word “retarded” in a whole new light.

I really wish someone earlier in my life would have taken the time to tell me about the use of this word, and why I shouldn’t use it. I would have stopped immediately.

When I hear people use the word “retarded” like I used to I try to take a moment to help them understand why they shouldn’t. I’m always very gracious about it because I know they don’t mean anything hurtful by it, and they certainly aren’t trying to insult my son or others with intellectual disabilities. In fact there have been a few times where I didn’t say anything simply because I didn’t want to make the person feel bad.

But since there is a large community of readers behind this blog I thought I would take a moment to help educate anyone reading this why they too should help “end the word.”

Why You Should Stop Using “Retarded”

I pulled this info from the spread the word website which gives more than a few reasons why I cut the word “retarded” out of my vocabulary and you should too.

  • The R-word is exclusive
  • The R-word ignores individuality
  • The R-word equated intellectual disability with being “dumb” or “stupid”
  • The R-word spreads hurt
  • The R-word is offensive
  • The R-word is incorrect
  • The R-word is derogatory
  • The R-word fosters loneliness
  • The R-word is hate speech (Ouch! I had no idea I was using hate speech all this time!)

Sign The Pledge To Stop Using “The R-Word”

Spread the word to end the word is doing a campaign where you can pledge to

….support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

I believe that all people are created in the image of God, are valuable, and deserve to be spoken about in respectful and loving ways. I know it would be very hurtful if someone called my son “a retard”or if someone used that word to describe something foolish they did (therefore implying that my son is foolish.)

If you agree with me, I’d encourage you to take 2 minutes and sign the pledge.

Do you sometimes use the word “retarded” in jest? (It’s ok to say so, as I mentioned I used to do the same thing.) If so, do you see “the R-word” differently after this post, and do you think you will try hard to remove the use of that word as a “slag word?” Leave a comment below and let us know. 


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About Rick Smith

Hi, I'm Noah's Dad and I'm passionate about giving the world a window into our life as we raise our son who was born with Down syndrome. I also enjoy connecting with other families, so let's stay connected.


  1. Thanks Rick,
    Never thought of the words, “duh” and “lame” before in this context. Where was my occupational therapist brain? A thoughtful and thought-provoking blog post as usual!

    • I think this is retarded… the term is directly offensive as the ignorance of the offended…

      • Wow. What a repulsive and immature thing to say. Why even be on this page? Is your life that miserable that you have nothing more positive and loving to say? I’ll pray for your sad, tormented soul.

      • Seriously I cant belive this yyallare the offspring of spicks and half retarded niggers.

  2. I love this so much! I’ve never thought of the “R-word” as badly as I do right now. It’s also been a term to just describe a foolish mistake, but I really see your point. I was definitely extremely appalled after watching the video, and I pledge to try not to say the word anymore. The sooner the world cuts this word out, the better. By the way, your son Noah is so adorable and you can’t help falling in love with him the first time you see him! He just a certain light in his eyes that makes him the cutest kid ever! :)

  3. I think the 30 sec video is apples to oranges and context does matter. The word retarded has a meaning,
    “to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede. ”
    Calling a disabled child that would be insulting but using the term in other ways is not, (in my opinion. The context and way we use words make them offensive, not necessarily the word itself. By the way, my nephew,uncle, and son to be are and will be disabled.
    Just my thought and I respect your point of view also.

    • I completely agree with you, it is your intent when you use words that could be offensive. If I walked up to this author’s son and called him that name, it was my intent to insult him, which I would never do.

      We really need to come to grips with these word games we play or pretty soon we’ll all just need to find other ways to communicate without saying a word.

    • This is exactly how I feel about this word. To make slow, etc… I understand that the slang for the word is very hurtful, but rarely do I ever hear it used in such a way. Personally, I rarely if ever use the word, but I am not insulted when people use it with the meaning of being slow. In my opinion, every single human on this planet is slow in one form or another. It can apply to all of us.

      My son was born with Down Syndrome and he is well respected by all. He will be entering the sixth grade this year and has numerous typical friends. My son is amazing and yes, he’s slow in many ways, but he sure can figure out electronics way better than I can, so I’m slow, too. By the way, Noah is adorable and you are wonderful parents. Thanks for sharing.

    • Janet, I understand what you are trying to say but I never hear someone using that word in a serious way as you describe. It is always used as mockery. Comparing a foolish act or person to another person who has a disability. Please give me an example of how you use the word in a way that is not implying that a person with a disability is foolish or stupid. Thanks.

      • psiEnergos says:

        I’ll give you a few:

        - Retarding the ignition timing a few degrees will suffice.
        - In rabbits the same technique was unsuccessful, with denudation actually retarding recovery threefold ( Buehler and Newman 1964 ).
        - The corticosteroid hormones which are often used to treat the kidney disease may also retard growth.
        - An attempt to go directly from TA to OA publishing will only retard the growth of OA for another needless decade.
        – Perhaps it was the over-riding 19th century belief in Progress which did thus retard the assumptive values of the field of still photography.

        As you can see, when used as a verb (as it was meant to be), and not improperly as a noun, there is nothing offensive about it (just because you haven’t personally witnessed it being used correctly, doesn’t mean people don’t do it every day regardless) . It’s simply a word, and a very common one at that. Because people have misused it is not cause to ‘ban’ said word. work to correct the misuse, and stop being so narrow minded (banning a word due to it’s misuse is tantamount to banning a hammer because too many people hit their thumbs!). If the word bothers you even when used properly, then don’t use it, but ‘bans’ are just dumb.

        BTW: This article was pretty clear about the elimination of the ‘derogatory’ use of the word (i.e. noun), to this I very much agree, it’s just not nice a nice thing to call anyone. But I don’t really think the author is out to ‘ban’ a word, simply the use of it as a noun. ;-)

  4. I totally agree. Everyone I know uses that word to describe something/someone stupid, but they don’t really think about it.

  5. I just hate the R word.

  6. I totally agree. My adult brother has special needs and i have always corrected my friends when they say “That’s so Retarded!” It hurts to hear these words. I am amazed how ignorant people can be. You know your true friends when they correct their behavior.

  7. Caroline Linakakei Bricker says:

    It just makes my tummy do flip-flops when I hear some one use the “R” word…I have 5 kids & 2 of them have ADHA; and the are both special needs, but they are the most loving & caring boy to me in the world! Also the younger of the 2 is blind in his left eye & half way in his right eye! And I just don’t understand why so many people want to use the “R” word…If only there was away that we could take these words some where they couldn’t ever be used again! Thank you so much for this video clip! Have a great night!

  8. Hey,
    I just wanted to let you know how completely beautiful this website is, your articles are amazing and moving. That video gave me goose bumps… I want to thank you for putting into words what I could not express to my friends about hurting special needs kids even when they didn’t mean to.
    So thank you, so much.

    Ps. Your son is so beautiful :)

  9. Herp Derp says:

    You’re all retarded.

    • Your’re really immature…. It’s sad you have to use a fake name to put something so hateful on here. It’s ok though god is watching :)

    • Heather Light says:

      Hi my name is Heather Light. I have some special needs. So hearing the “R” Word is really really hurts my feelings. So please stop using it. From Heather Light.

    • If you do not like it, do not read it.

    • Kate Glauser says:

      And you are an undereducated poor soul who has no idea how to use the gift of language to properly express yourself.

      I always tell my kids, one of whom has special needs, that communicating properly is a lost art and that is shows more intelligence to speak your point while refraining to lower yourself to include vulgarities. Those who have not had the proper education will revert to vulgarities as a means to get their point across because they know no better. Point in case, your missive!

  10. Stephanie says:

    I have a daughter with DS and I’ve never really been offended by the R word. I’ve always used it loosely. (Not so much now to not offend) And many people I know do. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Learning slower than average has never been a negative thing to me. I think we ALL fall under the description of that word in different areas of our lives. I hate the the DS community is so offended by it. I wish we could teach these beautiful children not to be offended by it. Its just a word, and honestly, being “that” isnt a bad thing. But that’s just me.

  11. Pamela Dye says:

    I appriciate this blog post very much..in fact I check lots of your posts out. I have a 6 year old (Jasmine) who experiences downs syndrome also. I too used this word without thought for many years and do not use it anymore, but the change has not been easy, in fact I feel for people when they use it and do not mean anything bad by it. When you have a child with a disaility who lives with a part of their brain being “retarded” or slowed in the learning process it hurts in a different way than can really be explained in words to really help others understand. Like I sid though, the change is hard. I once made a terrible mistake ..when Jasmine was about 3, she was being really silly while she was playing on the floor and I laughed and said to her “Oh Jasmine, you are so retarded”…as soon as it came out of my mouth I gasped and asked for forgiveness…I also made a commitment as punishment to myself to educate others every time someone used it in a derogitory manner. It is important to educate with love and not to condem or create hurt feelings. I also am a college student and I have written many a paper and since I was in a public speaking class at the time, my final speach was about the R word. It seems like just a word, but it cant hurt to pick another one if this one hurts anybody…there are enough other choices in the english language….I hope others will try.

    • Lisa Van Drese says:

      I hear from a lot of people that it is only a word, or they believe in freedom of speech. I, too, used the word a lot without meaning to offend anyone. When my son was born with Ds, I started to look for resources and came across the campaign to end the word. I didn’t understand until people with challenges explained why it offended them. I try not to judge when I hear it from others, but I do explain that it is offensive and there are a ton of other words that they can use that will not offend. You can stop punishing yourself, because you obviously learned something from that experience, and it has made you a better person. Thanks for sharing your story. If we all work together, it will happen one day.

  12. maybe i should print this out and give it to a person i know who constantly uses’s this word … she’s immature on so many level’s always offend’s me when she uses that word then i tell her to stop and she doesnt get it…

  13. I am so ashamed that I EVER used this word…I am even embarrassed to admit that it was once a “habit” of mine. I used it, like you, without even thinking about what it really means. How ignorant of me. I will join you in pledging to “end-the-word” and to educate others as well. Thanks for posting!

  14. I agree that a polite person would try to eliminate offensive speech from their vocabulary. But it is important to know that this word was NOT always considered hate speech & to be gentle letting older people know that it is currently considered so. When my Mom was growing up, developmentally disabled individuals were grouped as idiots, imbeciles & morons. When I was young they were referred to as mentally retarded with subgroups referring to how independent they were expected to eventually become. I even belonged to a service group, formerly a part of United Way, called YARC (Youth Association For Retarded Citizens) where we put on parties, took groups of disabled young adults bowling & worked our local Special Olympics. By all means, try to educate the public & police yourselves regarding hate speech, but realize that acceptable usage changes over time & be gentle with the elderly when doing so.

    • Sheila from Bama says:

      This is an “in” word with the younger generation and LOTS of people don’t understand why it is offensive to others. My son had a son when he was only 17 and soon afterwards had the word “RETARD” tattooed onto his ankle. He and his friends were always calling each other retarded or retard-just casual ribbing of youth, and I think my son was kind of proud of it? But turns out his son (who is now 6) has autism. Indeed it gives a whole new perspective to the word! But if you ever saw the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, one of the kids had an arm severed in an accident, and his “godmother” started calling him “Stump!” She said that everyone else would do it and if they were the ones that started it it would be less hurtful. I don’t really agree totally with her philosophy but can UNDERSTAND her way of thinking! I guess I don’t mind the word itself unless it is used as a slang and want to keep from sensitizing my grandson to it. We all do things/say things sometimes without thinking of how others might take it. In a time of so much “politically correct sensitivity,” it seems we all should try to be a little less egocentric?

  15. As an autistic bibliophile, I believe that some words were not meant to be used.

  16. I’ll admit, I used to use it A LOT. It was a word that was used so frequently growing up. When I was in college, I began to realize the problem with using it. When I became a Special Education TA, I was ashamed of myself.

    I’ve worked REALLY hard to drop it from my vocabulary. I do catch myself say it from time to time, but I think it is when I hear it. I just revert to old bad habits.

    I have a co-worker who uses it incessantly and when she does, I realize how much I’ve stopped using it because I whip my head around when I hear it. Every time. I’m just not used to hearing it anymore. But from time to time, I catch myself repeating it.

    It’s a constant effort to change habits, whether it’s language, diet and exercise or biting your nails. (I’ve failed at all of these!) But if you work at it, you’ll succeed. You just have to WANT to change.

  17. I don’t use this word because I was called it for my disablites and it hurt and I wont hurt other how I was hurt.

  18. My family finds the term offense, because it is generally used in a negative connotation – even if the person using it does not intentionally mean to insult someone personally. Many have used it in the past without realizing it is discriminatory, but when most people have a child or other family member with a intellectual disability, it hits home and we realize how hurtful it is to the individual and their family and friends. It is insulting and falls into the same category as racial slurs – we may have grown up not realizing how very inappropriate and hurtful they were to use, but as a society most of us have
    come to understand how unacceptable they are in a civilized world. I urge folks to think a little more about the effect before they throw the word around carelessly. As parents we need to set a better example for our children, including putting a stop to bullying in our schools and communities. No child deserves to be bullied. And, keep up the good work Noah. we are proud of you.

  19. Cheryl Lund says:

    i have learned thru my own experience not to use the “R” word. I have a son who is diagnosed with “moderate retardation”. I have written before regarding my sons disability which includes skeletal problems,retardation, several deformities which he was born with but had surgeries to correct them or make less noticable. He does the flapping with his arms and is non-verbal.I took him out to a restaraunt once when he was maybe 4 or 5 yrs.old and since he didn’t talk he did grunting sounds and flapped alot. Needless to say, there was an ignorant couple there and all I could hear from them was “..people should keep there pets and monkeys at home”. That was such a blow to my mom and aunt and myself. I was beside myself,couldn’t say anything just cried. Just then i realized how ignorant or uneducated people are regarding disabilities. All i could do was pray for that couple that God would show them the light. It was hurtful to say the least.Since then, when my son is with me,and people stare or point I just smile.Instead of retarded we should just use the word ‘slow’ or mentally challenged. The syndrome my son has is called Rubinstein/Taybi syndrome, for those who want to look it up! My sons name is AJ and he is 25 now:)

  20. I was so glad to read this post on your blog. Your blog has so many loyal followers and so having great information like “Spread the Word to End the Word” can take off like wildfire. I am a recent college graduate so no children in my life yet. The reason I so passionately follow your blog is because of my huge involvement in Best Buddies International while I was in college including being on the student board. My buddy had DS and that didn’t stop him at all from achieving what he believed in.

    Ironically right before I was reading your blog I was reading about the work our Best Buddies Chapter was doing next month for “Spread the Word, End the Word” Keep up the great work. I am always inspired by your stories. God bless!

  21. Thankfully, my mom taught me not to use that word when I was a kid. She told me that it was a derogatory term. I’m 42 now, and I never use it! I do have a lot of students who still use it, and I’m now going to make even more of an effort to end the word!

    God bless you and your family!

  22. Jennifer says:

    Rick! Thank you for this. Your family is amazing:)

  23. I hate the r word. I’m not intellectually disabled but I do have learning difficulties, as I was diagnosed with high functioning autism, and non verbal learning disorder, (among a few other learning disorders), 15 years ago, when I was 7.
    During my earlier childhood, prior to diagnosis years, my autism was more severe than just a high functioning, or asperger’s level. I was non verbal until age 4, and semi non verbal until almost age 6, and predicted originally that I would probably never speak, and then that I would probably never exceed the mental capacity of a 10 to 11 year old.
    Even as a person with a high functioning diagnosis, I’ve still been tagged with “low IQ”, and even that I take issue with.
    I have a bunch of really cool friends who happen to be intellectually, learning, neurologically, and/or developmentally challenged. Words in general, need to be used more carefully. Words have meaning and can be used to hurt or love, to build up, or tear down, to build bridges, or burn them.
    Like the Toby Mac song “Speak Life”.

  24. This is a moving article. Like you, I have uttered those cruel words. Though at the time I never thought of them as hate words. I was a kid and of course I never said it in front o my mom. From the time I was 21 till earlier this year (i am 40 now) I had the honor and privilege to work with the mentally and physically disabled. From babies to way into adulthood. My language and my focused changed. I hate the R word. like u I try and be gentle in explaining on why that word is inappropriate and hurtful. many don’t realize why they even say it. On outing with my participants I would get so angry at the stares people would give. But in the end I would realize you change others by example. So by laughing with my participants, talking to the, showing the world. they are like us might change how others see them. I have to commend all the company’s and parents as well as every day people that have chosen to recognize these amazing and love people for WHO they are and not for what they have. Noah is a lucky little guy to have you in his corner. May God continue to bless you and your family.


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