You don’t realize how much words matter until someone says something that matters to you. One of my family members made a joke about Special Olympics. I realize this is a cultural thing people joke about, not meaning to ridicule but it is hurtful to me. Words matter! My son has Autism, is a wandering risk, can be a danger to himself, and has been a Special Olympics athlete for 8 years now. I find the coaches to be compassionate, committed and caring. The athletes all participate to the best of their abilities with pride and joy. A Special Olympics team is a very different environment than other sports games because everyone is supportive and roots for each other. There is no fierce competition. It actually took me a while to adapt to the mindset of a team without a competitive push. These athletes deserve the same as all other athletes. They should not be made fun of, but praised for all they are achieving. I know and understand the obstacles they need to overcome are much greater, than the challenges of most other athletes.
I am his voice. When I hear words like stupid or retarded in peoples’ regular conversations it hurts. I know they are culturally accepted words, and that they are not directly insulting my son, but it hurts anyway. Our culture needs to change and make our language more respectful to people of all abilities. I truly believe that the greatness of a society can be judged on how it treats and cares for our most vulnerable citizens. They are people with feelings and dreams just like you and I. As a culture our everyday language should not ridicule and demean but support all athletes for each of their achievements. Our words really matter because they define our reality and opinions.