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I’ve grown up with students with special needs my entire life. Starting in grade school, I formed friendships with them. These friendships grew in middle school during an extra free period where I would hang out with them, play board games, and help these students with their homework.

However, in high school, my love and passion for these students truly flourished. Every day I looked forward to seeing these students, my friends. I would go to gym class with them playing soccer, baseball, kickball, bowling, etc. I worked alongside them and taught hand-eye coordination and teamwork skills. I participated in Special Olympics and Best Buddies and through these organizations, I bonded with one student in particular.

Her name is Stacy and spending time with her truly brightened my every day. We would get dinner together, go back to school shopping together, and do activities that I would do with any of my other friends. Stacy is just like me and, even in college, I’ve continued to maintain my relationship with her. And that is why the word “retard” is such a hurtful and offensive word that hits home for me.

I often hear it thrown around at this university. People saying, “I look like such a retard in that picture” or “that student is so retarded” implying that that individual is dumb. This offensive word matters, and although it is often said without any thought, it is exclusive and extremely unkind. By using the word “retard,” whether consciously or unconsciously, they are excluding individuals and lumping them into one group that is vastly different from their own.

Students with special needs are individuals, each with their own characters, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. They are not all the same and they are not dumb as the word “retard” stereotypes them to be. This word isn’t socially acceptable as it negatively affects individuals and spreads hurtful language. Students with special needs have feelings and the stereotypes associated with the word “retard” affects them. They are human beings and they deserve to be treated with the same respect as any other person. Let’s spread awareness and end the use of this destructive word.

Images courtesy of: Sophie Kalt

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