August 9, 2011

Just a Word: The Change-Up Edition

(Note: After some private and refreshingly non-shouty consultation with persons more familiar with the particular issues surrounding self-advocacy by persons with disabilities, I can see now that this wasn't a terribly well-written post. In particular, it lacked inclusivity, which, given how hard we've worked to create an inclusive environment for Schuyler, was a particularly obnoxious oversight on my part.

I hope that the larger point I was trying to convey isn't lost. Regardless, I apologize to those who felt slighted by my limited perspective. Like any other parent advocate, I stand astride two communities, those of the neurotypical and the disabled, and I don't always feel like I fit in or represent either one of them all that effectively. But I do try, and I will continue to try to improve.)

Well. Let it never be said that the entertainment world isn't committed to providing material to blog about.

From "The Change-Up", from Universal Pictures

Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds), about his friend's twin babies: "Why aren't they talking? Are they retarded? This one looks a little Downsy."

Let's dispense, for the moment, with the usual debate about freedom of speech or how comedy supposedly works or whether or not anyone needs to lighten up or pull a stick out of their butt. Instead, let's write a story. We can even pretend it's fiction.

Imagine a parent with a child who has Down syndrome. I actually have one in mind, a strong and positive writer whom I've become friends with over the past few years. But you probably have your own friends or acquaintances you can imagine.

So let's say it's a mom, one who spends her days, her years, taking care of a child, a very special child in every sense of the word. She loves this child the way most special needs parents love our children, which is to say, with equal parts gentleness and ferocity. She understands what the lesser of her fellow citizens of this rough world thinks of her kid when they see the evidence of disability stamped on a child's face but don't bother to look beyond. Perhaps she knows better than most how this attitude diminishes the shallow observer, not her child. Maybe she's found that peace.

Let's imagine that this mom likes comedies, and not just polite ones, either. Like most special needs parents, she probably engages in quite a bit of dark humor herself, the jokes and remarks made to her spouse or other special needs parents and no one else. She appreciates edgy humor, and she liked The Hangover, so when a new movie by the same writer comes out, she decides to take a few hours out of her weekend and go see it.

Perhaps her husband watches her child for her while she's at the movie theater. It would be nice if they could go together, but that's a luxury that's not afforded to every special needs family. If she's single (as so many special needs parents are; about 75% get divorced, according to a recent study), she's had to find a babysitter. This simple act for a typical family is one fraught with anxiety for the special needs parent. Qualified babysitters are hard to find; trust is even more difficult to build. Perhaps a member of her family will watch her child, but that's not a given, either. Many special needs parents have family members who don't get it, who have declined to watch our kids or who have made statements that we'd expect from fussy old ladies at the grocery store. (For me, it's always the old ladies, and it's always at the store.) So a family babysitter isn't a given, either.

But however it happens, our imaginary mom finds a way to go see The Change-Up. She's there, sitting in the dark, laughing at the movie, enjoying herself and pushing down the guilt, that feeling of abandonment that we feel when we dare to spend time doing something for ourselves. Perfectly reasonable, this time away, yet it's hard not to feel as if we've left our child unprotected somehow.

That feeling of leaving her child undefended suddenly swells when she hears it. "This one looks a little Downsy." Our imaginary mom is suddenly confronted with a room full of people, laughing right along with famous faces on the screen, in a multi-million dollar production worked on by thousands of people, approved by studio executives, writers, actors. All those cinema professionals, and none of them, NOT ONE, ever said "You know, we're making fun of purely innocent, absolutely blameless people here. We're making a shitty joke about people with disabilities, people who are brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of the moviegoers who are going to pay money to see this film. That strikes me as a dick move. Maybe we shouldn't do this."

Because this simple recognition of the absence of basic human dignity has not occurred to any of the decision-makers of this giant Hollywood production, our imagined mother sits alone in the dark, and she understands all over again, as if she could ever really forget, that a large segment of society, of the people she walks with and works with and attends church with right alongside her child, this chunk of society finds humor in her child's disability. They think her family's pain is appropriate as a punchline. This mom was right here with them, and does that make her complicit? She thinks maybe it does. Maybe she gets up and leaves the theater in the middle of the movie. Maybe she goes home to her child, feeling more than ever that her place is here, not out there with this great invisible THEM, the ones who will always place her and her child and her family apart.

But if people laughed, I suppose it works out okay when you do the studio executive math.

Again, I'm not asking you not to engage in this kind of humor. It's your soul, after all. You're the one who has to figure out what you're willing to do for a laugh, to fit in with the cool kids, and still sleep at night. But here's what I would like for you to do, if you're asking, which you're probably not.

If I ask you to close your eyes and imagine the kind of person who would casually use the word "nigger" to describe another human being, there might be some variation of the character that any one of you would build in your imagination, but I seriously doubt it would be someone you'd admire. I don't think you'd create the mental image of a person you'd trust your kids with, and I certainly don't think you'd imagine yourself.

When the greater part of society reaches the point where that exercise of the imagination would have the same result with the word "retard", we'll be on our way. That's what I'd like. It really is exactly that simple.

And "downsy"? That's vile. If you laughed at that, please go live in a hut somewhere, far far away from actual human people.


Elizabeth said...

I'm passing it along with a giant, annoyed and resigned sigh.

Thank you, again.

Pippa's Auntie said...

Bravo! This is a really thoughtful and accurate rebuttal to a truly vile act portrayed as "comedy". Thank you.

Greg said...

Full agreement from me, Rob. What passes as humour these days leaves me so confused. I'm sure it used to be so much 'nicer'.

clover-elf-kin said...

You've just hit on only one of many, many, MANY reasons I don't watch many Hollywood productions. What passes as humor in most movies... ugh.

erika said...

Downsy?? Wow. One must be a real reptile to come up with that one. Great post.

The Morris Family said...

Thank you. This has been bother me, the mother of a son with Down syndrome, since I heard about it. I am thankful for the heads up as I am sure I would have begun crying in the theatre had I seen it myself. What this says to me is that those writers equate being "downsy" to equal stupid...and that is just sad. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

Scott said...

Great post. The only part I'm left wondering is, are we supposed to LIKE the guy? Or is he an asshole? Because if he's an asshole the audience is meant to revile, then that dialogue could be a good way to get to that hatred, fast.

Becca said...

I have heard people talking about one of Brad & Angelina's kids this way. One of the twins (I don't know their names). And I have actually heard people comment that this little girl, this ACTUAL PERSON, looks like she has "a touch of" Down's (because Down's is something you can just have a little bit, even though it's in every cell of your body?). And I've heard them call her downsy. rebuttals include such educated phrases as "they are not down syndrome" (no fucking shit. nobody IS down syndrome).

why do people have to make my sister's life harder in order to get some laughs? and why, out of the hundreds of people who saw either the script or the film before it was released, why did nobody say, "uhh, guys, that line's a little fucked up"?

Candidia said...

What a disgusting word. Thanks for this post.. I won't be wasting my time with this movie.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

The only part I'm left wondering is, are we supposed to LIKE the guy? Or is he an asshole? Because if he's an asshole the audience is meant to revile, then that dialogue could be a good way to get to that hatred, fast.

You know, I thought about that a lot. I've been on the fence about stuff like this before (Tropic Thunder, for example), when I felt like the use of this kind of language may have served a larger, legitimate storytelling purpose.

In this case, however, it doesn't seem to pass the basic sniff test. This feels entirely like a vehicle for a cheap laugh. But I do recognize that I'm flirting with hypocrisy in saying this instance is wrong but others might not be. Honestly, I can live with that.

Machu Picchu said...

With all due respect, I think The Change-Up is a potentially misleading example. I'll freely admit I have not seen the film myself, but there's a very specific reason why: by most accounts, the movie is filled with insulting and degrading humor -- degrading to women, degrading to men, insulting to anyone with a modicum of intelligence.

Is it not possible that your heroic mother laughed at something not related to disability that was just as horrendously offensive to someone else?

Don't get me wrong, I know full well the strength of temptation to focus so intently on issues related to one's own experience. As a gay man, I was truly offended by the "electric cars are gay" gag in The Dilemma -- which was included in the trailer, indicating a marketing strategy aimed squarely at (and created by) smug, self-justified homophobes. And bringing the connection closer to The Change-Up, even The Hangover -- a movie I actually very much enjoyed -- included that very grating "paging Doctor Faggot" joke, doing away with which would have had no adverse effect on the impact of the film (arguably it would have had the opposite).

I will also admit that it takes knowing someone with differing challenges to start gaining a different understanding. One of my current closest friends is a little person/wheelchair user, and it is only because of my relationship with her that I now have a far greater sensitivity to the word "midget" than I ever used to.

And yet, we still get movies and TV programs where words like both "faggot" and (perhaps especially) "midget" are used with unself-conscious abandon.

My point is that The Change-Up is far more than a movie with a line that's offensive to developmentally disabled people and their loved ones. It's in the broadest sense an example of a Hollywood machine that panders to the basest of human intellect, regardless of context.

Sometimes it's good to look past the tree and see the forest.

tiffany ard said...

What are your thoughts on Sarah Silverman? She is the only one I've ever seen who can somehow pull off using horribly offensive words. She makes it clearer than most that she is making fun of shallow, selfish assholes who use that kind of language by taking their jerkishness to the extreme. Just curious if she strikes you the same way.

Samuel Sennott said...

I am looking to the National Down Syndrome Congress to see what their response includes.

I recently read about Dr. Stotko's response to the GQ Boston remark, .

These things are hurtful and angering. Really good blog post speaking about how people must feel and how it is simply wrong. Thanks for what you do Rob.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Machu Picchu: I see your point, and I agree, but I'm not sure how that changes anything. The reality is that there is very little crossover advocacy between disability groups and others. Witness the deathly silence from gay advocacy groups in the wake of Tracy Morgan's "retarded kids/chimps" remarks. It's not just gay advocacy groups, of course, not even close. But where advocacy is concerned, there's definitely a sense of "I got mine already, you're on your own".

The big difference is that for developmental disabilities, self-advocacy is a huge challenge. Does any other advocacy group depend on others to take up the fight? In that sense, I think it's still appropriate to shine a very particular light on anti-disability humor, even when it's part of a larger offensive whole.

Tiffany: I have mixed feelings about Sarah Silverman, but it's mostly because I find her humor to be uneven, not because of ay offense. I think she's usually pretty clear about the fact that she's playing a self-important and completely UNself-aware character, and that's the source of the humor. I think the key is always to ask "Who is the butt of this joke?"

Machu Picchu said...

The big difference is that for developmental disabilities, self-advocacy is a huge challenge.

All right, I will concede that point, and I can see how it's a point lost on most. But I still think this particular movie is a less effective example, as it evidently wallows in every base stupidity imaginable. It's painfully clear that the makers of that movie have far different concerns than you or I do about just about anything, let alone the issues that affect us most. I don't believe it deserves any attention whatsoever.

Siobhan Wolf said...

Didn't think it looked like a good flick from the trailers to start with, but this is so wholly offensive that I am left speechless. I'm glad you've got the right words, Rob. Tell it! Shared.

Becca said...

@Macchu Picchu--I dont think that just because a person (or movie production) is an equal opportunity asshole means that we should give them a pass for insulting this group or that group. they insulted retarded kids, women, midgets, men, smart people, and gays? they should be loudly denounced by all of those people (and the families and friends of all of those people, and obama should accidently call them jackasses while he's being recorded). there's a certain kind of arrogance in humor that is based on insulting other people that just bugs the crap out of me.

Stephanie said...

Beautifully written...thank you from both my son, Dylan, and I...I'm that mother in the theatre...

ScientistMom said...

I think every parent of a special needs child can tell you about "that moment". The one where you knew something was really wrong. Or the one where the doctor said, "I think your child may have XYZ". It is traumatic and scarring. Some remember to the minute of the day when that anniversary is. I try to forget, but I remember the month.

So when in a movie you hear someone say something like, "That kid looks downsy" it is a touch beyond a cheap laugh. I think many can't help recall the first person who told them something was really wrong with their child. How it felt. What was said. And even if that person was well meaning, we hate them a little bit forever because they shattered the world we thought we lived in.

So it's a cheap laugh for sure. But it is also such a vulnerable and sad place for many of us. And our children certainly can't protest on their own behalf. Some of them aren't with us anymore. Some, like my daughter, are non-verbal. They don't pay taxes or elect anyone. Who is going to listen?

So yes, we rely on Rob, and others with powerful word art, to point out just how wrong it is to pick on those who can't defend themselves, and by proximity, those of us whose whole lives are about protecting them.

I assure you, there are other ways to make a character unlikeable. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, that don't involve the "r" word and an offhand comment about what is normal. If Hollywood needs ideas, I am available to help.

Julie said...

Thank you for presenting this in such a way that people can start to understand things from a parent's point of view rather than just saying "it is wrong". I also appreciate the discussion in the comments section between you and Machu Picchu. It says a lot when two people can disagree to an extent but still discuss the issue as civilized adults, seeing each others' point but still defending their point of view. I see merit in both points of view, but as someone who works with special needs children and having seen the grief a parent deals with so often, I just don't think that it is necessary to target that population for the sake of "humor".

Christine said...

You are correct Rob. In many cases our children cannot self advocate. That is why I am very greatful for people like you who are insightful and thoughtful and motivated enough to do something about it! I applaud you sense on integrity and will be following your blog more often. From Another mother whose son has down syndrome

Brad said...

Unfortunately its all about the business math....its our job to change it:

tetisheri said...

Bravo, and I'm going to be passing it along.

Michele said...

Thank you for addressing who is going to stand up and nip it in the bud? The list is endless. I rise up at EVERY opportunity, polite or not, convienient, rude, interrupting, whatever--and call that person out.
It is a very small person that uses such words. I'll be sure to show what it looks like to have heart.

jperg said...

Thank you very much for expressing so eloquently what I have been feeling in my heart. I am tired of being dismissed as being "oversensitive" and being told to "lighten up." You rock, sir.

Father of a child with down syndrome said...

I think many of the people on this blog are missing the point including the author. I am not insinuating that it is okay to insult others with derogatory comments and prejudice but there is a special kind of hate and cowardice in insulting those who can not defend themselves. If you insult me, I can retaliate in kind, but my son is defenseless, he would hug you as you called him the "R word". He would smile and love you as you showed him hate, because he doesn't understand the stupidity and narrow mindedness of many. In my opinion the "R word" is the worst kind of insult yet it is still one of the most socially acceptable form of hatred, yes used for cheap laughs and causing pain for those of us who love someone with a mental disability.

Gina aka Slappy said...

We have close friends who have a daughter with Down Syndrome ... my husband and I had a serious talk with our teenagers one night about how they used the word "retard" to joke around with their friends. They never considered that it might upset somebody or what it really meant.

However, a grown studio executive should know better.

onekrazyredhead said...

I'm not really a Ryan Reynolds fan in the first place, but now I'm absolutely not a fan! I will not see this movie, and shame on every person involved with this movie!

shastadaisy said...

Given all the sensitivity in this arena, why would you make an exception and lump older people into the category of "fussy"? And what age group are we speaking about? I wonder if this aging parent of a special needs child fits the stereotype?

Rachel Nicole said...

Wonderfully written, especially the part about society finding humor in a child's disability. That especially struck me. I am time and again astonished that so many people, who are otherwise generally good people, find my little brother's disability an appropriate punch line. The truly sad part is, like you said, that we are never really able to forget because it has become such an acceptable term in society and I hear it every day. Thank you for a great, eloquent post.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Given all the sensitivity in this arena, why would you make an exception and lump older people into the category of "fussy"? And what age group are we speaking about? I wonder if this aging parent of a special needs child fits the stereotype?

Good lord.

Are you fussy? Do you make insensitive remarks to other people about their "different" children? If not, then I think you may safely assume I'm not talking about you. If that DOES describe you, then I am and you may shake your angry fists at the screen with renewed vigor.

THIS is why I am always a little hesitant to write a post like this, because there is always, ALWAYS someone who will take some I say and construct an equivalency with their own issues and cry "HYPOCRITE!!!"

If you truly believe that "fussy old ladies at the grocery store" is on par with "retards/Downsy", I can't imagine that you'd be satisfied with whatever I might say to appease you. Perhaps you should take it up with the fussy old ladies at the grocery store who are giving you such a bad reputation.

Kate said...

I am one of those Mothers...My adopted sons are two of the most amazing people I have ever had the blessing to love.

Rachel said...

Oh boy here we are again , same bullshit, different celebrity. The trend now seems to be - offend many and thus be accountable to none. And the "satire" defense is offensive to say the least. Nothing more than maggots eating dead flesh. I can imagine the convo with the publicist. "Hey celebrity of the moment got a no brained here. Accidentally (of course) say something offensive about people with disabilities. Don't worry they won't do anything more than boycott your movie they weren't going to see anyway. They might write a bunch of letters and start a grassroots thing but nothing huge - they're disabled -get it!?Their big letterhead group might write a letter - big deal cause then you volunteer for them  see and get your name on their events and whalla it's a double whammy for you in the press. ..... Don't like that? Then take the "smart humor" approach. Use the slurs but do it as if you were trying to make a point against it. The idiots who like you won't get it and the ones who would protest won't now because it's "satire" - best of both worlds really- cause you can say all kinds of nasty shit. This choice is the one my comedians use. So Celebrity of the Moment what'll it be?" 

Amanda said...

Rob...thank you for using "nigger" in lieu of "gay" as Machu Picchu has driven home the point that most folks fail to ADMIT, even as other society underdogs, that this is a population of people who can't tell you to "shut your fucking mouth".

I know many lovely gay folks whom do just fine with that, adovacy, making a place for themselves in society. My daughter can't speak, but she can hear...and understand an asshole move like that. In any arena of entertainment.

thetaooftulips said...

Well said Rob. Really well put. Plain and simple.

Dana said...

Very well said, Rob. I'm going to share it with my blog readers as well.

Kathy said...

Great post! This resonates so much, especially the part where you refer to this as "a dick move". Perfectly put. It's sort of like the Black-Eyed Peas actually releasing a single called "Let's Get Retarded" (later reworked as "Let's Get It Started") but NO ONE from the band members to the producers to the PR flacks at the record label stopped to wonder, "Is this offensive?" Unbelievable. Hollywood really, really sucks. And people who laugh at this sort of garbage suck, too.

Holly F. said...

Wow, so well said!!! Thank you. Will pass on.

shastadaisy said...

Once more with feeling: There are fussy fools in any group; there is no need to blame age--that's called "ageism." And btw, I care deeply about the major theme of your writing. Celebrity fools have been throwing around the r-word for years and years, just for openers.

The Couches said...

Well said. I'm saddened that nobody made a stand against this before it made its way to the big screen.

Sara said...

Rob, thanks so much for summing up my exact feelings. I've sent this out to all my Facebook friends. As a writer and a sister of someone with Down syndrome, I could not have said this better myself. Thank you, thank you. I'm going to fight for a public apology. I don't know how yet, but this just can't be ignored.

Jenny Dawn said...

Rob-- what a fabulous posting-- I was also "that" mom this past Friday night- only a slightly different variation--our 11 month old son with DS just had open heart surgery and we were finally out for the night. I love, love, love your post. Here is my account of my viewing of "The Change Up"...
Hugs and thanks for a beautiful post! Jen

Anna Theurer said...

Hello Rob. I do not know you, but what you have written. . .let me tell you, you described it all perfectly. I am not a single mom but I am the proud parent of a little girl with Ds. To hear someone make fun of my child who cannot even defend herself yet is beyond cruel. As you can imagine, I am not the only parent to feel this way. A few of us recently formed a group called Stop Disability Slurs
I will be sharing this with our many many followers over there. Thank you!

Sarah said...

Hi Rob! I picked up Schuyler's Monster on a whim at the library so found your blog. Love both. This was a great, great, wonderful, beautiful piece. The image of this mama at the movies will be sticking with me for a while. Thank you! Also, I have to say you are, like, the best writer on possibly all of the internet. True story.

pattikoz said...

as the older sister of a 48 year old man who has been labeled with every name in the spectrum from learning disabled to emotionally delayed,to minimal brain dysfunction,then at 25 (after an eye exam where possible markers for Down Syndrome were found)Down Syndrome.... the r word as you call it has become my pet peeve. I am aware of the movement to ban the term MR to classify persons with disabilities, however, my personal crusade is to stop people from using the "r word" to mean asinine or just ridiculous.... I simply ask that when the "re" comes out of their mouth they finish it with diculous.... most people are quite receptive and many have joined in my little quest to eliminate the mis-use of such a hurtful word. My brother proudly wears an awareness band inprinted with RE-spect! Re-educate 1 person at a time

lauren said...

I thought that movie looked good, but I quill not be seeing it now & I will make are to tell everyone know not to see it either! I am not a parent I'd a child with a disability, but I am a teacher Of students with disabilities & was a camp director at camps for people with disabilities & this brought me to tears! I cannot imagine sitting in the theatre & hearing that! I would walk out!

tralinda said...

Thank you. As the mother of a gorgeous, enchanting, SMART little boy with Down syndrome, I thank you. And also thanks for using the N-word analogy. I've been waiting for someone to make that point, since the people who will defend their right to use the R-word don't seem to equate it with being an actual slur to people connected somehow to the world of Disability. If we keep hammering home the point that these terms are as pejorative as other bigoted terms, maybe the media will finally catch on and give the issue the serious publicity that is needed. Again, thank you.

gretchen said...

Hi there. Great post. Thank you! Would you consider including a link within this post to a grass roots organization Stop Disability Slurs that just was created Sunday night and has grown to over 500 members in 2 days?

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

There are fussy fools in any group; there is no need to blame age--that's called "ageism."

Yeah, I know what ageism is. I also know that I described actual experiences that we've had, not some hypothetical fussy old ladies. So again, take it up with the Shitty Old Busybodies Club at their next meeting.

So, you read this post and the outrage you came away with was "Rob's being AGEIST!" One more indication that when it comes to generating compassion and humanity among the general population for kids with disabilities, we have a long long LONG way to go.

FAB said...

Incredible post! People with disabilities are devalued, dehumanized and abused at staggering rates...saying language doesn't matter, or that we are trying to take away peoples right to speech makes me sick. When people use that defense they show how little they know! You're right too, it's not about my fight or your fight, were all humans and should be standing up for each other! Ugh, I hate that we have to keep having this conversation....but someday the language will change, and then the attitudes and then maybe the oppression and abuse of people with's not just language, it's so much more. And I think using the n word as an example is a great waybto illustrate that point!

kellyc said...

Rob, your words are beautiful! Your writing is like a gorgeous watercolor painting:)
Down Syndrome does not define my daughter, she just happens to have that extra chromosome. We do not think about it much but when things like this come up I am reminded of the prejudices she will face throughout her lifetime. I wonder how Ryan Reynolds would have responded to the script if he himself had a child with DS.
Anyways, there are some wonderful postings on here and I am touched:)

hill said...

thank you for this.

The Christianson Crew said...

You had me at the first sentence. Beautifully written. Thank you from a mom of a child with Down syndrome. said...

I would agree the joke as you quote it seems tasteless. From what I understand, the intent in the film was to portray a character as a boorish dolt, but there are certainly wittier ways to do so.

What I will add, though -- and, again, not to defend this particular joke -- is that humor often offends some. I think of the blasphemies and racial barbs from some of my favorite comedians (many of whom, I'd venture, you likewise enjoy), and the indignation they roused from certain establishments. What makes any given speech hateful is always subjective. To think otherwise is dangerous. I hope I don't need to explain that further.

So, let's just say I support the right of a movie to make a tasteless joke, just as I support your right to object to it, and I believe in watching both parties to ensure neither get to self-righteous along the way.

-- mm

Joyce said...

My daughter is 28 year's old; she does NOT attend "R" rated movies, but if she did she would know exactly what they were talking about. She reads well, writes well and understands the meaning of retard and Down as in Down syndrome. I feel pretty certain she would wonder WHY people in the audience were laughing at the "downsy" comment; not realizing it was a referral to her, a lovely young woman who simply happens to have Ds. I applaud this author!!! Thank you for saying the things that matter in this undesirable day and age!!

Annie said...

I have to admit that I am surprised by that the term "downsy" seemed to be unheard of by so many here. This term was used with regularity in delivery rooms, as I recall well into this decade. I saw it not infrequently when I reviewed video of delivery rooms where a problem had occcured (Indeed a nurse pronoucing "the baby looks downsy around the eyes" was very often a parents first indication of that something was up...see for example the exact scenario in the book "Life As We Know It: A Father, and a Family, and an Exceptional Child.") I have two friends for whom a similiar comment was made when no prenatal testing occured. Just pointing out that this term was not something made up for this movie.

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Team Lando said...

Brilliant! Thank you, from myself, and my baby girl.

Julia Roberts said...

I started crying when I read this because, as mom with kids with disabilities I CAN put myself in her position.

Even though my kids do not have Down Syndrome. I am her. said...

Interesting comment from Annie, pointing out that the word "downsy" has a history as part of a medical vernacular. Perhaps like "idiot", "moron", "retard", or "mongoloid" -- all once widely used in mental professional diagnostic circles -- it's a term that has acquire enough offensive connotation that it should be retired. I'm sure we could all agree on that.

However, I still think Annie missed the main point of this thread. It's about indignation here, Annie. Not information. That takes all the fun out of being so cocksure you're in the right.

-- mm

jmrinaldo said...

I would like to make a point to people who say, "What's the difference? Movies make fun of gay people, black people, women...", etc. The difference is that these individuals can stand up for themselves and defend themselves against the idiots who use these offensive terms and "jokes"! Where is the equivalent to the NAACP when OUR kids with special needs are being ridiculed and help up as jokes!?!?!?! My daughter with Down syndrome is not a punchline. Universal Studios and all associated with this film, including those who go see it now should be deeply and profoundly ashamed, and our families deserve an apology.
Joe Rinaldo

The purple crazy lady said...

I'm appalled, I work in special needs classroom. The day in and day out struggles with these children... is not funny, it is heartbreaking... and the parents and amazing. I don't get how a chlds dissability can become a joke to anyone. Yes, each child has thier own" humor" and we do laugh with them... but never at them.

Samuel Sennott said...

In reflection on this incident and the related ones in the media over the past year, I had an epiphany.

One, the writers were insensitive, mean, and ignorant.
Two, these incidents can be turned around. There is an underbelly that thinks and talks this way. These unfortunate events can be used to bring these issues "into the light".

I think that the campaign should focus on a revision for the DVD version and a public apology. That would send a positive message.

Melissa said...

Great blog post, and so many interesting comments. "Father of a child" brought tears to my eyes because his kernel of truth is the most important detail that no one else has mentioned. The vast majority of "retarded" people in this world have an unselfish, unconditional love for the people around them. Although they cannot self-advocate, and may not even understand they are being made fun of, they have a wisdom that few of us may ever dream of possessing. To those who have not yet had the privilege of knowing such love, I hope that someday your ignorance will joyfully be turned to understanding.

Melissa said...

Great blog and interesting comments. "Father of a child" brought tears to my eyes because he is the only one who mentioned something very important. While these children may be unable to advocate for themselves, or even miss the joke entirely, they are actually the enlightened ones. If you have ever had the privilege of being loved unconditionally by one of these children you know what I mean.

dr_som said...

Amazing writing, humor, insight. Thanks. I've had a blog in my head about this topic. No need to write it now. You said it all!!!!!

NRenee said...

Wonderful, perfect post--I'm passing it along!

Also, regarding Annie's post...just because doctors use a given word doesn't make it appropriate or even ethical, particularly when disclosing a potential diagnosis to a family! Sensitivity is not always a priority....

erika said...

@Annie - I had not heard the term "downsy" before, but I speak English as a foreign language, so I will chalk it up to that. However, in my opinion, the etymology of the word doesn't change the fact that it's hurtful, especially as a "cute" new insult.

@mattmchugh -

"However, I still think Annie missed the main point of this thread. It's about indignation here, Annie. Not information. That takes all the fun out of being so cocksure you're in the right."

I agree, it is about indignation. Let's say I called someone a bastard and then informed him that it was originally a legal term describing children born out of wedlock but it had gone through pejoration and thus acquired a derogatory connotation. Would it make my language less offensive? What if he was the son of a single mother, should he be indignant? I grew up in a country where free speech wasn't a right (before Communism fell), so I am keenly aware of its importance. However, sometimes it's not about right, it's about decency. There area lot of things that I have the power and the right to do, but I choose not to do it, because it would just make me an ass. I don't think movies should be censored and the r-word should be banned, but I think it should be socially unacceptable and regarded with disdain - like racism or antisemitism.

Shasta said...

My husband and I just got back from our very first mini-vacation away from our twins, one of whom has CP, with a very similar mix of emotions/difficulties you describe for this imaginary mom. When we wanted to watch a movie, Change-up was one of the few available and now I'm so glad we decided not to watch it. I could tell the comedy was going to poke fun at parents in general and parents of twins in particular, but I didn't think it would do that to the disabled. How awful.

Gentry said...

What I'm surprised by is that there are expectations from studio executives to be highly moral, upstanding members of our society! What, cause they're rich? Why go see any movie that glorifies base human behavior? Why not set our standards higher? Then maybe they will stop putting out this kind of crap!

kellyc said...

So true Melissa. We are so blessed:)

Twilson9608 said...

As a mother of a child who has Down syndrome and who has fought so hard and who has gone through so much in her short seventeen months of life, THANK YOU for this read. I have passed it on to everyone that I know.

pamaca said...

I am the mother of 2 adults with Down syndrome. I have listened for yesrs to comments and cute little remarks about what a gift they are. I want to scream really and you know that how. I will not go to this movie. I have know doubt it would hurt my daughter .I remembber seeing Precious and her daughter had the nickname mongo for mongoloid because she had downs. I guess I don't have to tell other parents how much I cried

Ellen said...

If anyone reads this and still thinks parents of kids with special needs are "overly sensitive" when they oppose the words "retarded" or "Downsy" they are truly soul-less. Or stupid. Or both.

The Hollis Family said...

Thank you for this blog post. Your commentary and insight is always so well put and clearly articulates the heart of the matter.

I am sharing the story of what happened to my family in early April. Hopefully it well help explain to some why this word is so painful. I also sent this to the people at Universal, Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman. I doubt it will do more than get it off my chest, but I had to do something. (Part of this letter was taken from a letter that was drafted by someone else who posted it on her blog and encouraged people to copy and send to Universal and others. So not all the words are my own, but the story is)

I have 4 young kids, including two young daughters who are beautiful, smart, loving girls who happen to have Down Syndrome. In April our family woke up to find our home had been spray painted with things like “Get Outta Town Retards” and “Retards Dead”. We were the victims of a cruel, cowardly, hate filled act. My boys are old enough to read and saw the words all over our home and paint all over our car. The house had to be partially resided, the garage door had to be repainted, the car had to be buffed out.

I would like to ask you a question. Would you insert a racial, gay or religious slur or joke in the beginning of a movie? I think the answer is NO. Why do you think it is funny to make fun of people with intellectual abilities? Please consider what message this sends to society.

The mockery of People with Intellectual Disabilities in the movie The Change Up, makes it acceptable for people to use “retard” and “downsy” as a punchline. It makes it accpetable to spread hate. It makes targeting, bullying, and demeaning my innocent 5 year old daughters, and their challenges, laughable.

Did you know that people with Down syndrome are called just that – PEOPLE with Down syndrome. They deserve respect and dignity. They may develop differently than their typically developing peers but they are contributing members of our society and deserve respect. I use to believe that EVERYONE deserves respect. In fact, that was a message I taught all 4 of my children. However I can no longer say EVERYONE deserves respect. People who mock, bully and ridicule others do not deserve respect, but they do deserve forgiveness when they do the right thing. I hope you will be an example of how to admit a mistake and make amends.

Gwen S said...

I'm passing this on; I wanted to see this movie but now I'd rather sit at home than give them my money.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

I know I'll be hated for this, but this just reinforces the whole "United States of the Offended" situation. I often am afraid to speak in crowds when I think that 99% of people will like what I say or joke about, but that 1% seems to make such a stink about something "inappropriate" that it ruins the fun for the rest of us. Best thing is to lock yourselves up so that your feelings won't be hurt. I truly feel bad for people that end up with abnormalities and their families. Making fun of them directly is just wrong. But in a movie, mentioning that a kid looks odd and might have Downs Syndrome is simple humor that shouldn't offend anyone.


Since you didn't make this comment anonymously, and since your profile includes the line "We enjoy every day we are given together and thank God for all memories and opportunities He has given us!", I'm going to give you a sincere reply.

You read what I wrote, and instead of considering how parents of and persons with Down syndrome might respond emotionally to the joke in the movie, you became indignant because you felt like your right to make retard jokes in public is being infringed upon? That's really what your heart told you?

If you have kids who don't have disabilities (and a quick look at your blog seems to indicate that this is the case), then it is clear that you do NOT in fact recognize the opportunities that God has given you. You take your fortune for granted. You walk comfortably in the shoes of typical parenthood and do not, even for a moment, consider what the path of a special needs mother might feel like under your feet, in a world where good Christian souls like yourself seriously suggest that they stay home, locked away, presumedly with their kids.

You say "I truly feel bad for people that end up with abnormalities and their families." I say that you do not. You can't, not if you believe the sentiments you express here. But here's the thing, Lesley. YOU CAN CHANGE. You talk about the opportunities that God has given you. Well, here's one, a big one. Here's your chance to grow, to really become someone admirable, someone your kids can look to as an example, not just of Christian values (because I'm not sure I even believe in those, and your position hasn't done much to change that), but of what it means to be a truly empathetic human being.

You have the chance to take this moment as the one where you stepped into a place of authentic compassion. You really can embrace your better self. You are not bound to the rules that govern your life right now, the rules that say "I wish I could make jokes at the expense of the defenseless without risking someone's disapproval" without even considering how appropriate that disapproval might be. You can do better.

Again, you didn't come here and make a shitty, anonymous comment. You put your name to it, and a link that leads back to your blog and your life. I respect that, even as your words and your position disappoint and sadden me. I hope you'll look into your heart and decide if you truly like the ugliness that you find. Because you can change. Everyone can change.

tetisheri said...

To Lesley,

There is so much fail in your message that I can't even begin to deal with most of it.

First of all, I really hope that you aren't calling kids with special needs "abnormalities". That is so thoughtless and cruel that it takes my breath away. I have a nephew with Down Syndrome, and my son has severe ADHD and learning disabilities. My son is my son, he isn't an abnormality. No child, no person, is an abnormality. They are all people.

Secondly, let's imagine that the word Lesley is being used in place of the r-word. So, where they used the r-word and downsy in the movie they now use Lesley. Your very name, who you are, is now being used as an insult. When someone does something stupid people will say oh that's so Lesley. Don't you think you would be more than just a little offended?
Now, imagine that instead of people trying to understand why you feel hurt and offended everyone tells you that it's just funny and you should suck it up, or just lock yourself in your house. How do you think you would feel?

I'd be willing to place a bet that you would feel as hurt as my 16 year old son does when he gets called a retard by the people he went to school with. I bet that you would be as angry as the parents of children with special needs and Down syndrome who are all here talking about how hurt they are by this.

I'm happy for you that you have a wonderful healthy family. But you know what, I'm happier for me and my family that we got the gifts of my beautiful, creative son and my loving, incredible and beautiful nephew, neither of whom are abnormalities. And both of whom are people who should be respected and not expected to stay hidden in the house away from everyone else.

erika said...

Leslie, if one of your beautiful daughters came home from school one day crying or just silently hurting because some mean kid made a cruel joke, mocking her for something she can't help, would you tell her that she should stop being so sensitive and suck it up because that kid had the right to make a joke? What if one of the popular girls at school didn't like your daughter, she started using your daughter's name as a synonym for stupid and it caught on? I will let you draw the analogy.

FifiMcGee said...

When does being PC go too far? Oh, right: all the time. Someone is always going to be offended at something, so just shut up, don't see the movie, and stop pushing your agenda down everyone else's throat.

Bethany said...

Thank yoou for writing this so perfectly. Please do not let Lesley represent Christianity. There are ass holes in every group. I am horrified by the fact that it is still considered acceptable by society to use individuals with disabilities as punchlines and jokes, a group of people who can not rise up on their own and who often have no voice. Humor always reveals a bit of truth about its society, or the person telling the joke, or laughing at it.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

"just shut up, .... and stop pushing your agenda down everyone else's throat."

Shut up? Stop pushing my agenda? So your much-celebrated free speech begins with your right to hurt people in the service of a cheap laugh, and ends somewhere shy of our right to comment on it?


Stupid AND anonymous.

Sisi said...

Well said. I love how in all your posts on this subject you are able to explain why such language is offensive from a very personal and emotional standpoint. Your way of describing how it's wrong is much more effective then mine has been in the past.

It looks like yet another movie is treading down this wholesome path. The trailer for the new Harold and Kumar movie included the line "this will make Avatar look avatarded". It's not nearly as bad as the line in The Switch, but still uncool.

Robin said...

I am also the parent of a special needs child. Thanks for your blog and this comment thread. It is enlightening. I don't usually participate in letter-writing campaigns or protests about this sort of thing because I have always tended to feel (as some of your previous posters alluded to) that people are often too sensitive and take offense more easily than perhaps they should. I have been lucky enough to generally be able to ignore the stupidity of others around me and know that, by and large, people mean well, they just don't realize that their words have barbs. They just don't get it and I'm not wasting my time trying to educate them. I have enough to do. As far as insensitive jokes, I don't find them funny in the least but I have always said, well, you're an idiot for thinking that's funny, but that's your life. .....
Um, that is until now.... This whole conversation has given me much food for thought. Perhaps having thick skin is a disservice to my community and our society...Even though I am not personally offended by such a joke, if others are, I need to stand with them. I just have to figure out how. Thanks for making me think about this differently.

One other note: I honestly believe [naively, perhaps] that most people in the audience with your special needs mom are not laughing at people with disabilities. They are laughing from the shock of hearing that a-hole say something so offensive. And, if [as in the case of say, Archie Bunker] other people in the film share our horror of the a-hole and put him in his place, doesn't the butt of the joke become clear? I'm thinking of films/TV that have done this, becoming a social commentary on bigotry and ignorance and not about making fun of the minority in question. I didn't see the film, but I imagine that this didn't happen and the joke was given, as you say, for a cheap laugh.
Anyway, thanks for giving me much to think about!

Hope said...

@Lesley I haven't noticed anyone commenting on this topic as being hateful except for you and "fifi". You are completely missing the point.
What is inappropriate here is the blatant disregard for the emotional health of another human being. If you were to walk into a room and begin spraying some sort of toxic germ, someone would tell you to stop because you are harming the health of others. The attitude behind this word is harming the emotional health of many.
In this case, you are justifying the hurt you are inflicting by your right to have your own sense of "humor". If I walked up and slapped your daughters would you think that was funny? What if I justified it by saying "I didn't do it very hard!" or "Don't be so sensitive!" or "Hey, it's funny when Moe does it to Curly!". If I in ANY way devalued your children, wouldn't you say something about it?
That is what you are experiencing here. While you live in your fluffy little world of "girl's vacations", diets and "Memorial Day Picnics", those of us with "abnormalities" in our families are fighting for our children's dignity. We are saying that "words DO hurt" and "don't verbally slap my child".
Like I said in my response to this situation, "If words are no big deal, stop using them!". Quit fighting for your right to hurt that "1%". You may want to look around at these comments. You will see that 99% of the people who have commented do not think it is at all funny. Just a friendly suggestion, re-evaluate your sense of humor. It is probably not as good as you think it is if you find laughing at the most vulnerable of our society a good joke.

@FiFi There is nothing political about this topic. The majority of these people we are defending cannot vote. They are not Democrats or Republicans. There is no political correctness implied in this whatsoever. It is merely educational. This whole campaign is about dignity, kindness, humanity and it is meant to open the eyes of those who care to be quality individuals. It is a request to stop verbally abusing and bullying those who cannot speak for themselves. If you choose not to, then you are the one who is missing out on what is good and decent in this life. If you weren't such a mean person, I would feel sorry for you.

C said...

Aw, Lesley. Your girls are just beautiful. THey remind me of a family from church whose second daughter is also named Lucy. She often misses cues for her activities, can't sit when she's supposed to, and wanders. She has severe food allergies. She loves her hairbows. She loves Hawaii, and grandparents, and playing the guitar. But she's not typical, Lesley, and I'm sad that so many people will miss her piercing beauty because they'll be seeing all the ways she's different from what they'd expect in a darling girl.

Your family looks so cohesive! I'm blessed to have a cohesive family too. Except that I'm a single mom. My little guy doesn't see his dad much. I'll let you imagine why, when you think about his needs: feedings of soft foods, doesn't sit or stand by himself, diaper changes, meds. Does this make my five year old less than? I sure don't think so. But your family photos remind me so much of what our family looked like a few years back...

You and your husband have a built a beautiful, shiny life for your sweet daughters and yourselves. Every life has some sorrow, though. I hope yours isn't something that taunts you, something that requires you to do this kind of activist interaction - that you never in a million years thought you'd be engaged in. But if it does, there are other people who've gone before you and they'll have much to offer. There's research on just about everything these days, and there are a bazillion resources. Life so often brings unexpected news, and you've got a lot of life ahead of you yet. I wish you well, Lesley.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

NOTE ABOUT LESLEY: I just received an email from Lesley, informing me that her account was hacked and the remark that was posted was NOT from her. So I guess we're back to the predictable anonymous drive-by remark, with a twist.

Unless there are serious objections, however, I think might leave the responses since so many of you made such good points.

Just be aware that you're not actually responding to Lesley, but rather to "Anonymous Assmonkey".

Spacemom said...

This was an interesting read. I honestly never know how to respond to these sorts of posts.

I strongly will defend a person's right to be a bigoted asshole.
I will also speak out to change their view.

So this leaves me in a strange place. I am strongly offended by using the first letter and "word" to describe real words. I hate when people say "The N-word" "The C-Word" or here, "The R-word". Words have power. If you stop using the word and replace it as a forbidden term, you add power to it.

But I am also offended by someone saying "hey-is your kid Downsy?" or "You are so retarded" (Yes, I have confronted people about that, but they still have the right to be assholes.)

Before I get attacked for having a wonderful family with no problems and taking my fortune for granted, I want to say, no my children do not have any "developmental delays". However, they have their own issues which may or may not be recognize as "special needs".

I want to point out that not all special needs are recognized. All children have their own needs. Some kids have very recognizable needs, other kids don't. We all have what we are sensitive to. I have clinical depression and sometimes, I get upset at someone sighing and saying "Oh God I am so depressed". But then again, if the person has never experienced true depression, how do they know how stupid their phrase was?

I guess my ramble is this: Special needs parents are not overly sensitive to the slurs of retarded or Downsy, however, we have to remember that movies and popular media have NEVER been about the right thing to do, it's about the bottom line. By calling for Hollywood to be more careful, I do think that is where we cross the line of over sensitive.

To call anyone who laughs at these jokes stupid is not the most kind thing
We can't always control what makes us laugh, but we can think about it later.

I am sure I offended someone, but that is because I see the world in grey.

Susan Oloier said...

Robert, I am sending your writing further out into the nether regions of the world to share. I am rendered speechless. You have summed things up brilliantly (as usual). I especially like how you included movie-going alone, which is always our situation.
Thank you for this!

Holly F. said...

There has been some great discussion in comments. I'm impressed by the maturity shown by those with dissenting opinions (well, by most of them.) Regarding each group of minorities standing up for themselves, I give myself as an example. I'm 32 with three kids. My youngest (age 3)has Down syndrome. I grew up in a rural part of Louisiana. Family members, if not actual members of the KKK at least supported the cause. My parents bucked that system and taught me better.

The only people in the town with Down syndrome lived in a group home and had not had the benefit of PT, OT, SLP, anything. They had no teeth left and drooled on themselves. When I saw the group at a store surrounded by their nurses, I was afraid. I asked my mom what was wrong with them. She said,"They are retarded." I'm sure she meant "Mentally Retarded", but she was not very educated herself and suffered from a learning disability. I had the distinct notion that she did not mean it ugly, and I recall her telling me not to be afraid of them, to just simply smile or wave. She said that God made them that way and God doesn't make mistakes.

Fast forward to my teen and young adult years. That wonderful mother of mine died of cancer when I was 16. I became a hateful person. I moved to a bigger town. I saw more people with Down syndrome. They frightened me and I ignored them. I laughed when I heard the "retarded" used to insult someone. I laughed at irreverant movies and thought people should take the stick out their ass if they were offended.

With each child born, I grew up a bit. I wanted to be a good person. The day my T. was born, while he was fighting for his life, my nurse said,"We think he might have Down syndrome." She did not say that he looked Downsie or anything like that. She used professional terms to explain the low set of his ears, the holes in his heart, the gap between his big toe and second toe, the shape of his eyes, the collapse of his lungs. Of course I grieved. I just knew that he was what I feared most. Well, I made a deal with God that day. Let him live and I won't care one bit what syndrome he has. Just let my baby live. He starts school Monday! :)

No longer do I find jokes about Down syndrome, disabilities, or developmental delays funny. But something even stranger happened. I stopped finding jokes about homosexuals funny. I stopped finding jokes about different races and religions funny. Pretty much anything made for a cheap laugh at someone else's expense disturbs me, and I will stand up against it. "That's so gay" is not tolerated the same way "That's so retarded" is not tolerated. My strongest distaste is for using my son's diagnosis as a punchline of course, but I'll stand up against any of it. Empathy is such a great thing.

Now, before I am accused of having no sense of humor, let me say I've turned pretty vanilla. I like youtube for videos of kittens and babies giggling. But "The Office" is my favorite show. And trust me, I KNOW that The Office can be offensive. I just feel like it doesn't strive for cheap jokes and laughes. It strives to true satire. It shows ignorance in a different light. Very subjective, I know, but what is that old saying about recognizing something when you see it? The Change-up was vile on all layers....nudity, sophomoric potty humor, f-bombs galore. It takes talent and wit to create something much less obvious. To me, that is a sign of true satire. Sorry for the book! :)

Patti said...

thank you.

tetisheri said...


Thanks for your story. I'm glad that your precious child is starting school this year. That's always a fun time!

Kim in Alaska said...

Rob, I think that the bottom line is... until people have special needs children in their lives, in one way or another, they will never truly understand. Sometimes you just have to shrug and overlook their ignorance and calous remarks, they are too selfish to consider the feelings of others.
Kim in AK

Roo's Mom said...

I am sick to death of people who think it is PC run amok when we speak out against cruel and senseless insults hurled at the most vulnerable in society. I think having an issue with "PC" is just a way to justify one's own prejudices and misconceptions about people perceived as different. It's not just "politically" correct to speak out against defamation, it is the right thing to do in all circumstances. Thanks Rob for another insightful post on this topic that seems never to end.

Lennie said...

Wow... I somehow missed any press this movie received regarding this, but thinking back to friends I know who described the movie as "hilarious" I am appalled. I will make sure that this is not a movie I will be seeing.

On a related side note, I just recently finished your book after having read your blog for the past year or so. I was moved and plan on sharing it with some of the parents of children I work with. I work in early intervention with children who have special needs. I have one dad in particular who I think would really appreciate your way of looking at things and would get a lot out of the book. However, his son has Down Syndrome and in one line in the book you refer to a child who "suffers from Down Syndrome." I don't think he perceives his child as "suffering" and don't know how that will come across. Just wondering if you have gotten any other feedback regarding that line in your book?


Rob Rummel-Hudson said...


I did hear from at least one other reader about that, back when the book was first published.

While I am not a believer in People First Language (a topic I've written about in the past), I do nevertheless regret that particular word choice. It was lazy writing on my part. We're all learning as we go.

OliversTwist said...

I too have a problem with those who think it's funny to mock those with disabilities; "Family Guy" recently did something similar and tried to justify it by saying that the voice actress has Down's. So That's OK? I wonder what kind of people feel the need to laugh at those less fortunate...pathetic! Kim

Jan Hajjar said...

As the mother of a young man with Down syndrome - Robert Pio Hajjar, Founder of, an organization dedicated to education and relief of poverty for those with intellectual disabilities - I was shocked and saddened to hear about the slurs in this movie! Robert is an in-demand speaker who travels across North America to deliver his message of hope, inspiration and inclusion on behalf of his peers.

He has given hope and a positive outlook to parents of newborns and youngsters alike, something we wish we had been given after Rob's birth!

Students have been brought to tears after hearing his story, telling us after hearing Robert that they would never, ever look at a "differently abled person" the same way again. It is still an uphill battle but with the love and support of their parents, families, friends and school systems, our special children can and will grow up to be accepted and contributors to society! In Robert's words, "KEEP THE FAITH"!

troismommy said...

That's horrible. I like Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, but I'll gladly pass on that movie.

Great, well-written post!

Zoe said...

I have a disability and I don't like it at all when people put jokes like this one in movies. That's why I came to read this post when I saw it being linked on some other sites. However, I have to say that reading the body of this post upset me a lot more than reading the offensive quote at the beginning.

If you're asking your readers to put themselves in someone's shoes, why not someone who actually has Down Syndrome or another intellectual or developmental disability? You seem to think that when it comes to prejudice against disabled people, the impact it has on our parents is more important than the impact it has on us. I believe the R-word is offensive, but not because it might upset a non-disabled parent -- because it's an insult to me, personally.

I've written a longer response here:

Thanks for listening.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Thanks for your directness. I wil try to be equally direct.

Yours is an interesting perspective, but how is it one from which I can write? I think you're being a little harsh, considering that the only position I can represent and the only experience upon which I can draw is my own.

And when I talk about the unity that we as a community NEED in order to successfully advocate against a segment of society that doesn't give a damn about our kids or our families, this is exactly the kind of small-picture complaint I'm talking about.

What it comes down to is this. We all advocate from our particular position, and we all feel passionate about those positions. But as long as we squabble about whose position is more valid, WE ALL LOSE.

I'm not sure I understand how I have offended in giving the perspective of a parent rather than a person with a disability (a position I can't represent realistically and would frankly come across as offensive if I tried). What I do know, however, is that insisting that yours is the only perspective that matters and the only one that can reach people? Leads nowhere but scraps. And I think we've all had enough of those.

Living Leffew! said...

As the parent of a child with Trisomy 12p. I will gladly being sharing your blog link with on my own blog.

Thanks for a wonderful post!

Living Leffew! said...

As a parent of a child with Trisomy 12p, thank you for the post. I will gladly being sharing your blog link on my own blog!

Job well done!

B. said...

Penelope Trunk, ever classy, seems to think the R word is just fine.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

She seems like a real treat. Well, she certainly takes ownership over her use of the word, I'll give her that much credit:

People write this comment a lot on my blog because I use the word retarded a lot on this blog.

I use the word in the right way — to describe something or someone who is learning or doing something at a slower rate than everyone else, usually because of brain development.

I'm very open on my blog about me being retarded, Melissa, my son, and many of our extended family. We are retarded in social skills. So what? I accept that that's how things are, and then I own the word.

Maybe it's like nigger. If I were black, I could use it, right? Isn't that the rule?

And, get ready for total insensitivity: Look , if you kid has Down's Syndrome, your kid is retarded. I don't understand. It's just factual. I think as a noun — retard — maybe the word is offensive. I just don't get why it's offensive as an adjective.

It may console you that the Farmer almost dies of pain every time I use the word fuck. It is just absolutely not okay to use in middle-America farm country where we live. But I use it anyway. Because it really really is fine for me. So he tries to read past fuck on my blog.

So maybe those of you who don't want to hear that I am retarded in certain areas can skip over those sentences.


Patti said...

And, get ready for total insensitivity: Look , if you kid has Down's Syndrome, your kid is retarded. I don't understand. It's just factual. I think as a noun — retard — maybe the word is offensive. I just don't get why it's offensive as an adjective.

wow. I've never been so tempted (in a public setting such as this) to retaliate to cruelty and ignorance. Suffice it to say, if there ever were a reason for someone to own the word, she certainly carved that out for herself with these words.

stacy said...

So maybe those of you who don't want to hear that I am retarded in certain areas can skip over those sentences.

Okay. In fact, I think I'll skip the whole blog. said...

One last point...

The six finalists for "Favorite Special-Needs Parenting Blog - Readers' Choice Awards 2011" (one of which is this current blog) also includes this blog:

"Just a Little Bit Downsy"

Based solely on the title of the above blog, most posters here would reflexively hurl all manner venom at the author -- who is, of course, a parent of a Down syndrome child chronicling her experiences, to the apparent approval of others in her circumstance.

If the aggregate point of this post and the myriad comments here is that using certain words perpetuates harmful stereotypes, than I just want to reiterate the reminder that ignorance about words causes its own brand of harm.

-- mm

Holly F. said...


I certainly wouldn't hurl venom at the mom, but I do understand context and intention. The movie, which was a sophomoric as a movie can be, was not loving referring to a child. It was using the term for shock humor. My husband and I, after being told so often that our child doesn't look like he has Ds so he might just have a "touch of it" (as if the extra chromosome only happened once or twice in the cell production of his being) have our own jokes. When our son squinches up his face a certain way and his eyes really take on the characteristic look so commonly noted with Ds, one of us might say: Now we can see the Down syndrome in him. He must have more than a touch today." That is our way of poking fun at the ignorance of others and finding humor in the sometimes painful arena of our life. I work in Early Intervention and my husband called yesterday and disguised his voice (badly) and said: Um yes, my daughter has a Downs kid in her class and I was wondering if she would catch it from him if she drank out the water fountain after him.

I laughed and said: You are an idiot. Then I hung up on him.

Parents do have a sense of humor and we are fairly smart. We know when another parent is laughing along with our collective experiences and pet peeves.

(I'm willing to bet the mom's blog title is a nod to the fact that others have used the "just a touch" comment to her as well.)

(Sometimes, parents in communities of support will comment for days on a thread asking "What are the stupid comments strangers have made to you about your child?"

"The touch of downs" is a popular one. "But you and your husband don't have it","Is it contagious", "Did you do drugs while you were pregnant" are other ones.)

So knowing when a fellow mom is laughing WITH us, we also know when people are laughing AT us or our kids. We can tell the difference between nice humorous support and Hollywood's cheap jabs. Yes, it is subjective but many times, it is clear to almost anyone that will admit it.

Sweetchili said...

wow, what an incredible read!
Rob, i think your blog and your further comments to others, are so brilliantly said, and I commend you greatly for your stance.
(I wish that there was way on blogger you could comment individually on comments! Or could "like" or "dislike" them!)

Hope, you are so right, it is so like a word slap in the face. And i love everything you said about it. I hope you don't mind if I use that one in the future, when I am 'discussing' this with others.

I really cant understand why people just cant get this, and those like "fake Leslie" and fifi come up with the things they say. And how we have to fight these people, day in and day out.

Zoe, i have also read your blog entry regarding this, and have cried and cried, now for this misunderstanding between "parent and people who have a disability".
I feel like in what you are saying is, that as a parent our advocacy and daily fight for our children is worthless....because it doesn't compare to yours.
I appreciate your points, but this is a fathers blog. From his perspective. Or his perceived perspective that a mother might feel.
I know this is going to sound "selfish" but you know the comment in that movie IS aimed and is offensive to parents just as much as to those with disabilities. I know that MY son has a VERY hard road. A road full of physical pain, and emotional pain. But I as a parent am in pain too. In pain for that day the dr's said to me "oh, he's quite dismorphic around the face..." etc.

And if sharing our view on how this word affects us is one way of getting the message across, then why cant we do so without being criticised by someone who should be agreeing and then sharing their story too.

Are you saying we as parents are not allowed to grieve this part of our journeys?...purely because it upsets you "more".
For goodness sake. I allowed friends and colleges and others to grieve and tell their stories of grief and pain. I listened and let my family grieve for MY own child. I was constantly comforting others about their fear for my son, and his 'impending death(which to this point has never happened). BUT DO I EVER..EVER EVER...say to them .... oh just stop it...WHAT ABOUT ME.
NO. Because everyone is allowed to share their story, and their grief, and how it feels to them.
As YOU are most welcome to do on your blog, and i would hope that no parent of a disabled child is going to come along and "whatever, what about us!".

I thought that we would be a team. That you would support us, and that we would support you. But reading your blog it just doesnt seem to be the case.

Rob I am so sorry to put all this on your blog, when some of it concerns Zoe's blog. I just needed to express my feelings some where.

Lisa said...

Thank you for this, Robert. Thank you.

rachel hollingsworth said...

If the child is nonverbal, then why not teach her ASL(American Sign Language)? It's very effective for many children, and has a lot of intelligence boosters and whatnot.