Down syndrome from a father's perspective.

It is time to end the R-Word!

I chose not to say anything about the R-Word when I was writing my last post, Words matter with Down syndrome. The focus of that post was about the innocuous sounding language that hurts; there is nothing innocuous sounding about the R-Word. In most cases it is used toward people with full cognitive abilities as an insult, or as a joke, or maybe to describe something that a person doesn’t like. Regardless of how it is used the point is the same; the R-Word is used as a synonym for idiotic, moronic, or unbelievably stupid.

There is a reason that the R-Word is used in this manner. There is a history behind this word; it has etymological baggage that gives it the punch. The person that chooses to use this word in a derogatory manner may not intend harm toward anyone in particular but it does inflict damage and pain. It is a myth to think that the word can be used without hurting people with intellectual disabilities.

A greeting card moment

I had the chance to pick Treyton up from school the other day. I pulled into a parking spot that allowed me to watch the kids play on the playground. It wasn’t the day that his class was scheduled to be out there but I scanned the area anyway. I tried to remember what his different hat and coats looked like that he could be wearing. I also tried to see if his teacher was out there but all of the adults had their backs to me.

I kept looking, trying to imagine which piece of playground equipment he would choose. I love to watch Treyton in “his environment.” I think I see him but then the kid turns around and it is not him. I am surprised by the disappointment I feel, seeing him on the playground is really not such a big deal; Treyton just makes me smile-inside and out.

Design by Alison Rowan


I walk into the school and make the couple turns required to get to Trey’s classroom. Our family schedule required that I get him out of class a little early so I just stand outside of his door. One of the assistants sees me and I hear her tell Treyton that I am there. He takes the teacher’s hand and walks into the hallway. When he sees me he does the sign for dad and I pick him up above my head and then bring him down so I can hug his little body. It feels so good to hold him; I bury my face into his neck and feel his warm little skin. It’s the little moments like these when everything seems so right. I love this kid so much and can’t imagine life without him. That is why I find it impossible to believe that my little man may get called a retard some day. That thought makes me sick to my stomach.


While having supper with a couple of guys I brought up the subject of the R-Word. These were dads that also had kids with Down syndrome. There experience was like mine, they had never been in the situation where the R-Word was used in reference to their child. In fact, one of the dads made the comment that he is not sure if he would be able to control himself if that situation ever did present itself. I can certainly relate to that concern.

Thankfully society has evolved enough that I don’t think it is very likely that someone would use the R-Word directly toward a person with a cognitive disability. At least I hope it has evolved enough; I pray that it has. We are primarily talking about people that use the word as an adjective for something they don’t like are believe to be unnecessary. In situations like these I try to be gracious toward others because they have not received a gift from God like I received when He gave me Treyton. Trey has opened my eyes to so much. Keep in mind that I used the word “try” because there are times when I have had enough and you would never guess I was trying to be gracious.

You don’t need to take my word for it

Tim and his brother Aiden

Instead of recounting what another person said about this subject I think you should follow this link and read it for yourself. The author, Tim O’Donoghue, reflects on some of his thoughts and feelings from when his brother (Aiden) started high school. Aiden has Down syndrome and the author does, in my opinion, an amazing job of explaining why we should all work together to end the use of the R-Word.

My entire life I’ve played witness to the continuous (and usually subconscious) relegation of people with disabilities. It’s an unfortunate habit passed down by our parents, and spread among millennials. It’s as simple as saying “Wasn’t that class retarded?”

A gracious response to Ann Coulter

After one of the first presidential debates between President Obama and Governor Romney conservative political commentator Ann Coulter used the R-Word to describe President Obama. Many people asked her to apologize and tried to help her understand how hurtful the comment was. However, instead of doing the right thing and humbly apologizing for her hurtful statement she did it a second time.

In response to Ms. Coulter’s ignorant statements John Stephens wrote an open letter Ann Coulter that says it so much better than I ever could. Stephens does a great job of describing how the use of the R-Word is so hurtful to individuals with cognitive disabilities. This letter quickly circulated around the internet as well as the mainstream news. Read the letter.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

The alter call

Had I continued my education at Moody Bible Institute there is a slim chance that I would have become a Baptist minister. If that were the case and this was my sermon now would be the time that I would ask everyone to bow their heads. You would then begin to notice that the organist quietly slipped out of her seat and is now beginning to softly play. Do you know what song it is? It’s “Just As I Am” of course! Feel free to hum that tune as you read this final paragraph.

This is a big task. I can’t do it by myself, John Stephens can’t do it on his own, and neither can you. But that doesn’t mean we give up! We need to join together to create this kind of change. The good news is that when you decide to make this commitment you will find that you are not alone. In fact, there are 313,513 people that have made the pledge to SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE WORD. I made the pledge and you can too. Click here to be redirected to the website where you can make your pledge. Once there, click in the top right corner and you will be ready to go. The next step will be to tell others. Let’s go!

Spread The Word to End the Word

Rob Arnold has been married to his high school sweetheart for almost 19 years. Together they have three daughters and one son. He earned his bachelor's degree in General Business from Grand Valley State University as well as an MBA in Strategic Management from Davenport University. He enjoys reading, hunting, scuba diving, and spending time with his family.