My Little Intellectual

posted Friday August 14th, 2009

smart sophie

I am so selfish that I actually had the following thought on Tuesday morning:

How dare Eunice Shriver die on Sophie’s first day of school.

I know. I’m horrible. But really, for once, I’d love to have a day that  is just about Sophie.

Sophie. Not my future Special Olympian, my mentally retarded kid — or, as I learned later in the week, my “intellectually disabled” kid.

I don’t know why, probably because I’ve heard the term “mentally retarded” so many times I’m immune to the sting, but I find the phrase “intellectually disabled” far more offensive.

The day after Shriver’s death, Diane Rehm had a man with Down syndrome on her show, to talk about the amazing contributions Shriver and the Special Olympics — and the special olympians like this man! — have made.

Funny, I realized I’d never heard someone with Down syndrome talk on the radio. You almost couldn’t tell, this man’s speech was so clear, his diction so sharp, his vocabulary remarkable. I sat in my car in a shopping mall parking lot, oblivious to the clock. Then one of the other guests, or maybe Rehm herself, said something about being “intellectually disabled”.

I sucked wind. The man I’d been listening to on the radio was definitely the smartest person in the studio that day — he had to be, to overcome the physical and other challenges that stood in his way of having such a good discussion. How dare someone call him intellectually disabled?

It’s all semantics. I know that. The kind of ephemeral stuff people waste hours debating over keyboards and coffees and cocktails.

What matters is that the guy is smart (or whatever) enough to be a super spokesman, to challenge our notions of what someone with his label (whatever you want his label to be) is capable of. Sophie did herself proud, too, her first day of school — her first week, in fact, has gone well, by all accounts. (All accounts I’m hearing, anyway.)

I can put my kid in a pink tutu and polka-dotted shoes for the first day of school, but there’s no way to dress up the terminology. It shouldn’t be about labels, anyhow. It’s all about the individual people. Maybe that’s something we’ll eventually learn from Eunice Shriver and her Special Olympics.

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4 Responses to “My Little Intellectual”

  1. YES, Sophie did have a great week in school! I admit to peeking in on her window several times this week. Peeking not to make sure she was doing okay (I know she will rock in first grade too!!) BUT to see her and watch her in action. I admit to missing her smile and brightness she brought to each school day last year and my peeks help bring that to each day. She however does not know that I have peeked in. I have on two occasions gone in and conversed with her only when I see it okay to do so. Often to get a hug to get me through this long start of the school year! I miss her!!! Her outfit for the first day was ADORABLE!!!!!!

  2. Know what you mean- it’s such a conundrum. It reminds me- I used to be able to call my little girl a sweet pea, or cutie patootie, etc.- love names. Now she looks at me and says “no mommy. I’m just a Kayli!”. That’s pretty much the way it is…..

  3. She is soooo adorable

  4. I find those terms offensive as well. Your daughter is so adorable. Amy she’s just the cutest

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