Is “Autistic” The New “Retarded”?

Aug 28, 13 Is “Autistic” The New “Retarded”?

Imagine you’re sitting in a classroom on the first day of school. You are anxious about the coursework, you’re worried about your grades, and you’re concerned you won’t be able to balance your school life and home life equally. You are the parent of a small child with severe autism.

Oh, and you also have Asperger’s.

Now imagine the professor strides into the room and begins discussing what will take place over the next term: outlining the syllabus, explaining how grades are given, going over mundane things like office hours and absences.

Wrapping it up, he casually reassures the students that they should all get decent grades.

Unless they’re autistic or something.

And  then he laughed.


Sadly, this is a true story. Intensely concerned about retaliation and her grades, the student decided not to confront him, and instead write about it on her personal blog. You can read her account of it at Autism Raising Autism.

There has been a lot of hubub over eradicating the word “retard” as a slur over the past few years. There’s even an organization dedicated to the cause, R-Word: Spread The Word to End The Word. While people are still throwing around the “r-word” as an insult, it’s becoming less acceptable in the common vernacular.

Image Credit: R-Word.org

Image Credit: R-Word.org

Without trusty “retard” as a putdown, a lot of folks have taken to using “autistic” instead. Most notably in the music community, with Drake, J. Cole and 50 Cent all making use of this trendy new term. I’m not sure why, but perhaps the loss of one insult left a void? We just really needed another word for expressing our dislike of another person, I suppose.

But why “autistic”? If you’re wanting to refer to someone as mentally slow, unintelligent, or ignorant, why not use those terms instead? Is it so necessary that we need to have a go-to derogatory word at our disposal?

I’ve heard a lot of defense of people who throw around “autistic” casually, and I don’t understand it. What if the professor had said “unless you’re black” or “unless you’re gay” or “unless you’re a woman”? He would be at the least suspended. It would be on CNN. Gloria Allred and the ACLU would be clamoring to be involved.

It’s the same thing. The. same. thing.

We in the autism community are waging a huge fight for not just awareness, but acceptance. To be seen as equal, functional members of society. My son requires one-on-one help to attend school and focus in the classroom, but he’s also studying astrophysics at home. He’s seven.

The individual who sat in her class and listened to her new professor refer to people with autism like herself is not only a student, she’s a parent.

There are people like Carly Fleischman, who was not able to communicate with the outside world at all until she was a teenager, through computers. She is now a notable person in the autism community.

And for every Carly or child like mine or adult like the student sitting in class, there are thousands more you’ll never hear of. You might not ever even meet them. But they’re out there, they’re everywhere. Whether or not you think a person with autism is a productive or contributing member of society is irrelevant (and up to your own sense of morality). Putting down an entire class of people because you’re too ignorant or lazy to think up an appropriate word is just that: ignorant and lazy. And offensive.

So, so offensive.

Autism is not new, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of or hidden away. Autistic persons deserve every bit of humanity afforded to the same idiots who would use their different neurology as a weapon of degradation.

I hope the professor in question is seriously dealt with by the powers that be at his school. I hope anyone who thinks it’s OK to use the word “autistic” to mean someone stupid, less than, or not important gets a good old fashioned smack upside the head.

Words have meaning, words carry weight, and words can hurt.

They can also empower.

My son is autistic. Which means he is capable of anything., including kicking your ass someday if you don’t knock it off.

And I’ll be right there behind him, backing him up.

Watch your mouth, please.

Image Credit: Wendy Baskin

Image Credit: Wendy Baskin

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  • Anthony

    I stopped supporting rap in the 90s because of the influence it has on young people,50Cent & Drake & J Cole have really messed up.I have been called retarded myself,always by the people who listen to mainstream music.There is a place for people with mental disabilities called Jenkins Memorial Center.Other students asked me if I had gone there & I have had 2 people,a coworker & an inmate from the same city as I am from ask me if I went to Jenkins.I always take it as an insult because it’s the same as calling me retarded & if I had gone to Jenkins,why was I in a normal school & working for the state?When people come to me sideways like that,they give me a bad 1st impression.

  • Michael Slesinski

    not the same as being black, or gay or any of those things. they replaced 1 word that describes a mental disorder with another, THAT is why people are swapping them.. because they mean the same thing. no amount of political correctness is going to stop people from calling a retard a retard or a homo a homo, the words exist to describe something. you dont just get to remove words from the language because you dont find them “nice” (nomatter who decides to deface mark twain books for “the greater good”).

    i find the correlation between the worlds current “politically correct” standard and the ever increasing stupidity in human beings astounding. its asif we are tricking our kids into all thinking the same idiotic thoughts at the price of their own creativity and freedom of expression. people have been calling one another names for ever! its one of those things that is sort of subliminally there to make people try harder.. what do todays youths “try”? mostly sitting on their asses and doing as little actual work as possible,

    being black is meaningless, so i dont see why you brought it up. its NOT the same as being mentally deficient or gay or even a woman (similar to being a woman, but not the same since womens minds do not work quite like mens while black people have the exact same brain functions as their other-colored counterparts). while all you “P.C.” pinkos can bang the drum all day about how being gay isnt a choice it most certainly is! its called self control, the way you guys paint the picture being a serial killer or a pedo isnt a choice either so we should just let them be. screw that!

    seriously, stop trying to change words around and youll have nothing to complain about. a retard is a retard, a fag is a fag, a woman is a woman, a black is a black. YES theres other words we “can” use, but we really shouldnt have to. people shouldnt be hiding behind autism asif its going to prevent people from calling them retards, because it never EVER will. the ONLY way not to get called a retard is to not ACT like one.

    • unicornhearts

      If bring gay is a choice, when did you decide to be straight? Why do people who aren’t gay think being gay is a choice? Then I guess they could “choose” not to be gay? Or are you actually talking about homosexual behavior? Your sexuality is a part of who you are even before you’re born. You can choose to have sexual relations, but you don’t choose who you’re attracted to. Speaking of ignorant!

      • Michael Slesinski

        “Your sexuality is a part of who you are even before you’re born.” no it isnt, who the hell told you that? if being gay was genetic it most certainly would have been bred out of the human species millennia ago.