When my daughter Nichole was born, her diagnosis of Down syndrome hung over me like a heavy, wet blanket. It clung to me, robbing me from any feelings of love. My motherly instinct was nowhere to be found. I went through the motions of holding and nursing her because I had to, not because I wanted to. I cried. I cried several times a day. There was much fear in the unknown with countless questions about her future, and how her diagnosis would affect our family.
Down syndrome. I knew some things about Down syndrome back then, like the word that could be used to describe my daughter. The R-word. Retarded.
I knew that someday, someone at her school might say to her, “Hey you retard!” with many laughs to follow such a comment. Or maybe it would be used to explain her differences, rather than getting to know her and be open to the gifts and abilities she has to offer.
The word “retard” is used to describe something or someone that is stupid, ridiculous, or inadequate. It is a word used to make fun of others, to point out their flaws, or to put them down. It is a word used to destroy and to tear down.
Thankfully, it did not take long for me to discover that my daughter was not what the word “retarded” means. My daughter was and is beautiful. She is not stupid, she is not ridiculous, and she is not inadequate. She has taught me more in her lifetime than I had learned in mine. She has been the greatest teacher I have had. She has inspired me and changed my life.
My daughter has the ability to touch hearts and change lives. A quality that cannot be said of all people. She has shown me more love, joy, kindness, and gentleness than I had ever known before. Indeed, her life has great meaning, great value, and she has much to offer. She is just like you and me: a human being with feelings, ideas, gifts, talents, and capable of anything she sets her mind to.
A word that has been used to mock people with intellectual disabilities makes others like my child wake up and face a world that has deemed them unworthy and incapable. So next time you hear the R-word, next time you say it, stop and think. Think about my daughter, think about others like her that stand strong against the tide of a word that has labeled them as stupid, ridiculous, or inadequate, because that is not who they are.
As Nichole’s family, we stand with her….stand with us!
Contributed by Ellen Stumbo, the founder of Disability Matters. Ellen is a writer and speaker who focuses on sharing the real – sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly – aspects of faith, church, disability, parenting, and adoption. Ellen’s writing has appeared on Focus on the Family, LifeWay, MomSense, Not Alone, Mamapedia and the Huffington Post. Ellen blogs at ellenstumbo.com and you can also find her on twitter and Facebook.