By Melinda Munson

Alaska has a way of holding onto things. For example: scrunchies, all-over denim and socks with sandals.

This isn’t a bad thing — except when it comes to the “R” word.

I hear the “R” word semi-frequently. I hear it in the store, in the schoolyard and even from other moms. “That’s so retarded!” someone will yell when they think something is lame.

I cringe at that word because several of my children are retarded. (That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It sounds cruel and harsh and inappropriate.) 

Let me phrase that sentence the way I normally do, when I’m not proving a point. Most of my children have mental retardation, which is now politely referred to as intellectual impairment.

Their intellectual impairment isn’t a negative. It was how they were born. It is part of who they are. Some of my kids will never go to college or hold a job or independently toilet themselves. But they are precious and innocent and deserve all the respect we can give them.

Growing up, I threw the “R” word around like the rest of my generation. I never used the term in relation to a person with special needs but I did employ it to describe my work schedule, my homework load or my little brother (who is in fact, not intellectually impaired).

I know better now. The “R” word hurts. It demeans a condition that is already difficult to deal with. It doesn’t even make grammatical or contextual sense. (Look it up.)

Eliminating the “R” word from our vocabulary isn’t politically correct. It’s humane. It’s polite. It’s thoughtful. It’s the right thing to do. Don’t be stupid. Stop saying the “R” word.