“Special” is the new “Retard”

In 2015, the annual day for “r-word awareness” is March 4.

This day highlights the mission of many allies and advocates of people with developmental disabilities in “spreading the word to end the word.”

And by that, it is meant to end the use of the word, “retard.”

I hosted blog hops for two years in a row. There are many, many outstanding posts on the page, and unfortunately, they don’t go out of style. Read them here.

Now, I’m going to be honest:

I think the word “retard” has morphed into something different. When young kids say it, I think that 9 times out of 10, they don’t relate it in any way, shape or form with a person with a developmental disability.

But even if the intent with most people is not at all related to developmental disability, I believe it is wrong to use it, simply because the original targets of the word – people with developmental disabilities – have asked the rest of us to not use it.

Their feelings about it are more important to me than proving some stupid point about semantics. They are the ones that get to decide whether or not we chuck the word, and they have decided.

This diagram says it all:


The word that rubs me raw now is the word, “special”

“Special” is the new “retard”

Because, unlike “retard” morphing into something else, “special” has not. It absolutely and directly means ‘person with a developmental disability.”

When people say, “oh, I feel so special”, they are saying that they feel like they have a developmental disability. It’s a punchy little twist on “special needs.” Use “special needs” interchangeably with “disability” as so many people incorrectly are these days, and “special” becomes short hand for “person with special needs.”

“You special person, you”.

Just another way to get a dig in at people – like my daughter – that society views as less than.  It’s okay to make fun of them, right?

“puh-leeeeze, that’s so special.”

I caught this in my Facebook feed.


It’s supposed to be this funny little ditty on notes that people leave on windshields. See how it says, ‘don’t bring politics into it’, like the “special” part is understandable.

It’s okay to poke fun at people with developmental disabilities, we gotta get our kicks somehow, right?

I don’t even have words for how wrong this is to me.

So all I can ask you reading is, PLEASE. Please take to heart the mission of r-word.org :


Pledge to show respect to everyone.

Don’t use the word “retard”. Don’t use the word “special” as the word “retard” once was used. Strike that “special” in the context of “special needs”and developmental disability right out of your verbal ballpark.

Show respect to my daughter and her tribe, please.

Make these words as unacceptable as a racial pejorative.

Prove that you are an ally through your use of other words.

Prove that you have the decency and strength of spirit to stand up to others who say those words. They are not cool, they are not funny. They are cruel, hurtful, small-minded, mean-spirited.

Pledge to show respect to everyone.

Do more – visit r-word.org and pick up some of their logos, banners, buttons and printables.


Have a blog post to share? Please visit “Give Us Your Word” and add the link to your post

 And –

There is a documentary in the making on the r-word:

IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign info:
Campaign Page Name: The R-Word: A Documentary Film
Tax-Deductible Donations thru The Film Collaborative:
The R-Word Documentary Film website:
We will also be posting updates and links to our social media pages, so please feel free to connect with and share those as well:



Meriah Nichols is teacher and artist who lives in a yurt off the grid. She is deaf, has 3 kids (one with Down syndrome) and a lot of chickens. She writes about travel, disability, and getting dishes done. She likes her tea Earl Grey and hot.


#deaf mom, teacher & #disability activist, living in a yurt #offthegrid. 3 kids (1 with #downsyndrome), a camera and a lot of chickens. Never a dull moment
A comprehensive collection of resources for new parents of children with Down syndrome - https://t.co/WfzGfpmWm6 - 2 hours ago
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  • Thank YOU. I have been an advocate against the r word since second grade-when I was first called it. Spread the Word to End the Word!

  • I also have a child with Down Syndrome. And I make a point not to use words that might offend people, so I won’t be using “special” in this way anymore- Actually I’m not sure I ever did. But I disagree that this use of “special” evolved from special needs. I truly think it came from “typical” individuals who thought for one reason or another that the rules don’t apply to them- the type of person who thinks it’s ok to park in an accessible parking space without a tag.

    • I completely forgot about the Church Lady and “special”. I agree with you about some people using it this way – especially people of my own generation. But I’ve heard younger people say things like, “I thought and I lost my keys but they were right in my pocket… I feel so special” or things like that… leaving little doubt in my mind that it’s not meant in the Church-Lady way. “Special” in this post was for them and that context.

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