I took my son to school today and walked him to the gym, as I do every day because that's where his class meets. After I dropped him off, I stood to watch him find his class and another, older, class walked past me with their teacher. I listened to the kids.
"Hey, look at me, I'm a retard," said a boy as he mimicked what he presumed to be the way a "retard" would act.
I don't think it was aimed at my son, or anyone in particular. I think the boy was just "joking" and having "fun," but I heard it.
I thought about how it made me feel and wondered what it would be like if that child's mother had been standing where I was. What if my son had walked past her and said, "Hey, look at me I'm a (insert racial slur)" and then proceeded with what he presumed would be the actions associated with that particular slur?
I'm betting she wouldn't like it. I'm even betting she would've insisted my son not use such language to refer to hers. In fact, I think she night have been outraged.
While we seem to be making progress in some areas of respect, I think have progressed little when it comes to respecting people with disabilities. It seems to be okay to make fun of those with disabilities. It seems acceptable to use the word "retard" when denigrating someone else. It's okay to act "retarded" and laugh about it. It's a big joke. Only my son isn't a joke.
He didn't ask for an extra chromosome. I did nothing to make him have that extra chromosome. He was born with it and he will live with it all of his life.
He is progressing, learning, and trying to do his best despite that extra chromosome. His extra chromosome does not define him and he deserves to be treated with respect, not be made the butt of jokes. We work every day to teach people this and, some days, I think that message is getting out. I see kids smile at my son, put their arms around him, and include him. Then I have an experience like today and wonder.
Yet I am hopeful that the world will be a better place for my son. I keep hoping that people will see him as a human being, not as a chromosome count. I keep working to send out a message loud and clear.
I may only have one voice, but I do have a voice, and I am going to use it.
My son is not a joke.