Taking back the R-word


Over the past few months I have felt a growing sense of discomfort in relation to the r-word.

The use of the words retard and retarded is at best borne of ignorance or thoughtlessness and at worst is deliberately, maliciously and serially insulting and offensive.

  • even and perhaps especially when used in the clinical sense, by so called professionals

There didn’t seem to be anything that that I could add to the understandable and ongoing outpouring of outrage from the social media Autism community.

  • and there still isn’t!

This post isn’t about outrage, it is about empowerment.


What’s in a word?

A few weeks ago I learned about a campaign to stop the use of the R-word and checked out their website.

  • Seems I live a more sheltered life than I realized :-/

Their goal is to:

‘Eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word’ which I fully support, except for one thing…..

It isn’t actually a campaign to eliminate the R-word!

It’s a campaign to eliminate the demeaning, malicious and frankly destructive use of 2 words:

  • retard (a noun)
  • retarded (an adjective)

To my knowledge, nobody has ever been berated for saying ‘r-word’ in a derogatory way.

  • nor has anyone to my knowledge ever said ‘r-word’ in a derogatory or demeaning way


Hog tied

When people understandably protest the use of ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ they rarely mention the actual words.

  • they refer to the ‘R-word’

The result of which is to tip the game in favor of the person who has used the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’

He or she KNOWS that there is power in those 2 words, just by seeing how people always react to them, over and over again.

  • and he or she knows that ‘R-word’ doesn’t come close to matching that power!

This isn’t just a case of going into a fight with one hand tied behind our back.

  • We are actually being hog-tied
  • and we are hog-tying ourselves!



I would like to suggest that we in the Autism community are NOT being derogatory if we refer to those 2 words when we protest their use.

  • This applies equally to any other group or person that is made the subject of these offensive words

I would also like to suggest that IF we mention the words ‘retard’ and ‘retarded'(instead of R-word) when we protest their use, our message is empowered and WE are also empowered, individually and as a community.

This doesn’t just apply to the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ either:

One of the most powerful responses to an accusation (or a generalization) is to turn the accusation or comment around.

  • Not as an angry response
  • Just repeating the key word back to the accuser

Try it for yourselves:

A: ‘I thought that was really thoughtless/irresponsible/careless (fill in the blank) of you’

B: ‘Thoughtless?’/’Irresponsible?’/’Careless?’

The empowerment here, is that we are not reacting emotionally

  • We are responding thoughtfully (instead of taking the bait)
  • We are using the accusers own words
  • We are responding with curiosity, rather than judgment (and who knows what else)

When we respond (instead of reacting) with the actual words used, I believe they carry a greater potency than that of the accuser.

  • Because we haven’t reacted in kind
  • We have responded thoughtfully
  • the full force, significance and implication of the insult is directed back at the accuser
  • like holding up a mirror
  • but without the background noise of an emotional and judgmental reaction, justified as it may be

and unless he or she is a sociopath (and I am using that word in its pure clinical sense) they will likely feel:

  • a sense of SHAME

Let them see it, let them feel it, really feel it.

Let them discover for themselves that their words destroy people’s joy, dignity and self-respect.

Not with a sanitized acronym but with the full force of the despicable noun and adjective that they are:

  • Retard
  • Retarded

The real R-words.


A different drum

People are rightly outraged, disgusted, hurt and feel contempt for those calling them, or perhaps worse still their loved ones:

  • Retarded
  • Retard

It may take great courage and a leap of faith, but try and give yourself permission to properly identify those offending words:

  • Feel the power that comes with the Truth, when you are in the right

Those 2 tiny words are NOT the exclusive property of the ignorant, the thoughtless and the malicious.

  • for their cruel amusement

You are committing no offence when you remind them that they used those words.

If that is a bridge too far for you, I respect your choice, I feel your pain and I am on your side because I have been there.

  • and I say this with reverence

My goal here is to offer perhaps a slightly different perspective on how we respond to demeaning insults.

To help our community to take back the r-word, empower ourselves and disempower the ignorant, the thoughtless and the malicious.



There is so much more to the emotive issue of the use of the words Retard and Retarded, which could easily occupy another 5 or 6 posts.

I chose empowerment, in response to what I see as a crisis of disempowerment, about which our community thus far, seems to have been silent.

I have wrestled long and hard over this subject and I need to acknowledge someone whose words finally persuaded me that I needed to write this post.

Quentin Tarantino was being interviewed by Sway Calloway about his latest film Django.

Tarantino talked about the personal struggles he had in using 100’s of Black-American extras as slaves.

He even considered filming in another country, to give the movie a ‘once removed quality’ from the historical tragedy!

Finally he took a meeting with his friend Sidney Poitier whose advice was to: Man up!

  • Stop being afraid of the movie
  • and be faithful to the TRUTH (my paraphrase)


Here’s the interview in full (ffwd to 2.20 for the ‘Man up’ segment)


#Aspergers and the social minefield


Imagine you are about to make your first ever parachute jump!

To make the experience a bit more exciting, you haven’t been given any training and it won’t be a static line jump either.

  • and you haven’t been given a reserve parachute!

Your only instructions are to pull the rip-cord handle after you are clear of the plane.

The plane is quite old and hasn’t had its mandatory annual maintenance check for 2 years.

You are flying through an electrical storm, it is raining and one of the engines seems to be cutting out.

The location of the jump is a little unusual, as it is a foreign country that is in the grips of a civil war.

You aren’t a soldier and you’ve never had military or survival training.

You haven’t been given any weapons, not even a parachute knife.

You have no food, no compass and no map.


This is how social situations often feel to me. Both the actual event and my anticipation of the event.

  • Particularly with larger groups and especially where there are a lot of people that I don’t know
  • But it’s nobody’s ‘fault’


I’m hard wired to collect and exchange information at a social gathering and if there are less than 100 people at the gathering, I am likely to be the only person with this agenda.

Everyone else is there to socialize.

Most of these people will become visibly tired, disinterested and uncomfortable if they engage with me in my fact finding and fact sharing quest.

This happens with very few exceptions, regardless of their level of intellect, because of their over-riding instinct for socializing.


This probably explains why I don’t really have any friends. The absence of social reciprocity due to my clinically impaired social intuition.

  • So I keep my socializing to an absolute minimum.

My efforts at socializing are far more successful in a business setting, as this form of socializing provides monetary reward and ensures my survival.

  • But even this form of socializing can be exhausting and often feels like much harder work than the intellectual effort needed to do my job!


Having Aspergers can also be quite unbalancing.

  • We typically have above average intelligence but our social intuition is in the bottom percentile!

I am one of the very lucky ones, as my IQ has been measured in the top percentile.

  • Despite this, there are still days when it feels like I am a hanging on by a finger nail


But it is what it is and I am still here, navigating the social minefield.

Ben X – Belgium Asperger’s movie


Ben X


Ben X is first and foremost a movie about bullying, but as experienced by the Autistic protagonist


I had shunned away from watching this movie for quite a long time:

  • Bullying is a subject I prefer not to think about
  • I found the synopsis disturbing
  • with no indication of any uplifting qualities

But after a little more research I decided to watch it and I’m glad I did.



Ben is the subject of relentless psychological and physical bullying at the hands of his class mates.

The cinematography was superb and was very well complemented by the dreary, shadowless Belgian autumn setting.

The director and lead actor who plays Ben, communicated perfectly the powerful sense of torment, terror and dread that defined Ben’s days at school.

  • I was never the victim of physical bullying
  • I was a little too tall, too strong and increasingly athletic through my teens
  • Even so, my stomach was in knots watching this film!

There was a lot of slowing down and even freezing of time, when portraying Ben’s sensory processing.

  • Ben’s attention to the tiny details on peoples faces and around him in general, is very well portrayed
  • The audience is placed in the middle of the white-noise hum of social conversations that Ben constantly experiences all around him
  • Ben’s rage is palpable, at least to me

The viewer is left in absolutely no doubt that even without the bullying, Ben is absolutely alone, outcast and adrift, just because he happens to be Autistic, in his case Asperger’s Syndrome.



Although Ben is presented as intellectually gifted, his Autism is obvious, though not overdone.

Ben has a somewhat awkward gait and is clearly not athletic, so the outlets for his rage are:

  • Meltdowns
  • Online gaming, where he escapes for hours, playing the character of a Hero

Ben enjoys some respite through the friendship of 2 allies:

  • A well meaning classmate who lacks the physical presence or the social rank needed to protect Ben
  • A pretty girl, met via his online gaming, with whom Ben develops a relationship


As the film progresses Ben starts thinking about suicide as a way to end his pain and torment.

Ben finally manages to take a devastating stand against his tormentors!

  • using his intellect
  • and with the help of his family and girlfriend.



The screenplay is an adaptation of the book ‘Nothing is all he said‘ by Nic Balthazar, who also directed the film.

The book was inspired by the true story of an Autistic boy who committed suicide because of bullying.



It wasn’t easy watching this film, although I am aware that huge numbers of children (and adults) suffer far more severe forms of bullying than those depicted in this movie.

As with the portrayal of Ben’s autism, the film maker depicted sufficient examples of disturbing forms of bullying to unsettle the audience, without overwhelming the film and turning it into a freak show.

For me, the film vividly communicates the horror, torment, dread and anxiety that I experienced in High school, far more effectively than I could have expressed in prose.

To that end, this film serves as a warning light, for parents, teachers, carers, showing how Autistic children can be made to suffer in school.

I wouldn’t have posted this review unless there was a glimmer of hope in the film, which I think there was.

Ben X shines a light on the dark side of school life for Autistic kids.

  • At the conclusion of this movie, viewers will be better informed and have a clearer understanding of what their loved ones might be experiencing at school

Remarkably, this movie does conclude on an uplifting note, albeit hard fought, with no sugar coating.

No spoilers. See for yourself.


Ben X trailer


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