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Spread the word, stop using the phrase ‘retard’

Vivek UpadhyayAt a recent CSU Best Buddies event, wherein the student organization’s officers were to be helpfully matched with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), I met a human miracle.

The event’s proceedings were lighthearted, novel, and granted much savory food for thought. I met colorful personalities which I previously never would’ve imagined. I learned to lend a more acute and receptive type of attention to the body language of social interlocutors. There was, among happy observances of getting-to-know-you exercises, an indistinct profundity lurking in the well-lit insides of our large gathering room.

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After undergoing a series of warm social rituals with newly familiar people, I met a young man who astounded me. I won’t reveal his name for his privacy’s sake, though I’ll inform you that he’s my probable “buddy.” I chose to converse with him just as I did with everyone else. He soon defied the quick, purely convenient categorizations through which I can normally first understand social interactions.

My buddy (which is the official term for each of our IDD friends) is apparently afflicted with a mild form of autism. Yet what a beautiful affliction this is. A simple conversation rewarded me with a shock to my cerebral immune system. His memory was, to use a near-understatement, beautifully prodigious. We spoke at length about videogames and his plans to create his own videogame.

I’m glad to be privileged with the opportunity to help in that effort. In between our continuous, joyous rounds of game fact reporting, he indirectly inspired me to push myself toward academic self-improvement. This may strike the reader as a bit random.

Permit me a clarification. I’m not naturally endowed with such gorgeously focused information recall as my buddy. I’ll exert myself toward new limits to learn well what I can: the simple conversation I held with my buddy lured a clueless me into sharpened mental acuity. This kind of a brain-flooding rush was utterly intoxicating.

Sometimes one person’s obsession can galvanize a lazy person into grateful self-revolution. I was at the pedestrian’s end of this casually impressive spectacle, though I must also stress the importance of understanding autism’s uniqueness. The seeming prevalence of what we often call “genius” in the autism-possessing community is something unfortunately misunderstood by far too many people.

Not daring to succumb to romantic conclusions, I will instead put forth an interesting speculation from one of CSU’s own professors, the famed Dr. Temple Grandin. To paraphrase her, with hopeful accuracy, milder forms of autism should survive while more severe forms are prevented; the unique benefits gleaned from the former type yield results which, arguably, couldn’t have been produced (as effectively) in mild autism’s absence.

It’s worth noting that she allegedly mentions the word “Aspie” — a colloquial term for one who has Asperger’s syndrome. For the sake of the target I seek to strike, I’ll mention in passing that there’s debate on whether Asperger’s is legitimately on the autism spectrum. Even if it’s not, her words are still worth pondering.

While such an insular and introductory point may appear to be poorly incorporated into this recollection, there’s more to be understood ahead.

A CSU-relevant campaign known as “spread the word to end the word” advocates a personal renouncement of pejoratively using the “R-word” (retard/retarded). Hopefully this commitment will combine forces with a decision to prevent this verbal malignancies spread in other people.

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In light of what you now know of my buddy, which is just one appreciable, unforeseen quality alive within just one individual with IDD, consider adopting this commitment to “end the word” yourself.

This is not to endorse self-censorship; I never will.

I’m endorsing responsible speech (and writing).

Temple Grandin once wrote with pithy strength: “I am different, not less.”

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