We've all heard kids call each other "retards," and it is cringe-worthy. But we figure, they're kids, they need to be taught better manners. Earlier this month, a French politician, Pierre Lellouche who is Frances' Minister of Europe, used the word "autism" in reference to the policies of a British politician. Some are offended. Though he expressed regret for his word choice, the damage was done. After all, he's an adult. If he can choose the words, is the usage widespread? When did "autistic" become an insult?
Enter any school and you can hear kids call each other "autistic." It is now a perjorative term. Slang becomes vogue, it's the next insult to say to one another. But, just like "retard," there are people behind these words. And words hurt, no matter what the sing-song rhyme says. They leave bruises on the psyche even more than sticks and stones. And the perception left of the group in question is beyond negative. What do you think when you think of someone with autism? Maybe it depends upon your experience.
So how do we get across to kids that using disabilities as an insult is hurtful? Not just to the one who is called "autistic" or "retard" but to the real people who actually have these conditions. Maybe change starts at home.
Some ways to combat negative stereotypes with young people:
Model respect for everyone, regardless of how different from you they may be. If a child hears you say disparaging things about groups you don't have much in common with, they will conclude it is okay to do so as well.
Familiarize children with people who have the conditions they are mocking. It is much harder to ridicule a group if the child is intimately acquainted with people in it.
Use their peers. Utilize the natural leaders in the pack, convincing them to stand up when they hear these words used in a negative light.
Education goes a long way to changing behavior. And as parents, if we matter-of-factly comment on it, without judgment, the limited shelf life of the term will be gone, replaced by something else in a short while.
photograph copyright D Sharon Pruitt, used under cc