Sunday, November 6, 2005

The R Word...Retardation

It never occurred to us to tell Billy Ray that he was mentally retarded when he was younger. I always feared someone would call him a "retard" or something equivalent but as far as I know that hasn't happened.

Billy Ray first heard the word from a teacher in his sophomore year of high school. I understand that the teacher was trying to help his students to face reality. The problem was the students in his classroom were not all able to understand what he was saying. Billy Ray didn't understand at all. He got the message that he is no good and that he can never accomplish anything. Years later Billy Ray will still say "I tarded" from time to time.

Think about the word retarded. To retard something just means to slow the progress. We tell Billy Ray that retarded just means slow. I tell him that we are all "tarded" in some ways. There are things that I am slower at than Billy Ray. For example, when we lived in a day ranch house where we needed to carry big bags of pellets upstairs for the fireplace insert to heat the house, I couldn't do it. Once we helped him pick up the bag Billy Ray could almost run up the stairs with the bag.

There has been media coverage of various persons considered to be Autistic savants. These persons have incredible abilities in one area or another yet may not be able to do many simple tasks in other areas. This is somewhat true of most retarded people and for that matter all of us. We are all retarded in one area and strong in another. It is just more pronounced in those with mental retardation.

I realize that I am oversimplifying here. The point I am trying to make it that being retarded doesn't mean nothing can be accomplished. Some can accomplish more than others. The child in a wheelchair who requires total care may offer a smile or some interaction that perks up everyone she meets. I once knew a man who worked in a thrift store and was probably a better salesman than many professional sales person..he knew his stock well and communicated to customers that he cared about them. Billy Ray has to have support staff with him but he touches the lives of others by delivering meals on wheels to seniors every week.

Until tomorrow,
Peggy Lou

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