Sample Letter about Hurtful Language

In our book, we also discuss creating an e-mail or social media message for your loved ones to address their use of slang in a proactive but gentle way. We have created a sample e-mail below, but yours may vary greatly from this based on your circumstances. You may copy this and alter it to suit your needs or create your own unique message.

Dear Friends and Family:

We have shared with you that our new/unborn baby GIRL or BOY NAME has Down syndrome, and although we are still anxious, we love our baby GIRL or BOY, and hope you all will welcome HIM or HER.

We have been through some emotional ups and downs, and have found that we are much more sensitive to the words those around us are saying. Comments about “the short bus” or special ed, which are sometimes bantered about teasingly, are starting to sting, and the slang use of the “R-word” (retarded) is causing us some pain. As we look back, we realize (with some embarrassment and regret) that these are things we may have said in the past. If we had only known the impact, we definitely would have eliminated these things from our vocabulary.

As we move forward in our plan to raise a child with an intellectual disability, one of the things that worries us is the way society looks at people with cognitive challenges. Although the phrase “mentally retarded” is something used less and less frequently by doctors, it is still in use in some clinical and legal contexts. It is also one of the phrases that comes to peoples’ minds when they hear the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Finally, this is still a word that is directed at people with cognitive challenges as an insult. Therefore, even though people using the R-word in slang “don’t mean it that way,” we do hear it that way and believe that our SON or DAUGHTER will hear it that way as well.

If your children hears this word in your home, they will use it as well, and will of course use it around our family. We are nervous about this possibility.

For all of these reasons, we are asking you to join us in our journey towards kinder vocabulary by eliminating the use of the R-word in your home. We know it’s hard to break old habits, but it would mean so much to us.

Thank you all so much.

Love to all,