Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Learning About Finland: "He's mentally retarded."

Ah - the lovely "R-word".


A few months ago, I was downtown and got a phone call from a doctor at the hospital who informed me that I will get a notice in the mail regarding our following appointment for V-Man's diagnosis of autism.
Up until this past summer - he was only diagnosed as "having characteristics of autism" because they didn't know what level of severity it was or how it would develop in the future.
He was also two-years old when we started doing tests and having assessments at the hospital for him.
So right away it was clearly obvious that V-Man was autistic but how much - not yet sure.

Then this past summer, while I'm downtown waiting for the bus, carrying a baby and a crap-ton of groceries - I get a phone call from that doctor and this was our conversation pretty much:
  • "Hi, it's Doctor So and So.  Is this a bad time to talk about V-Man's diagnosis?"
  • "Nope - what is it?"
  • "Well, he's definitely autistic and mentally retarded."
The air kind of escaped my body like a punch in the guts.
What the F does that mean?!

So this was my response after a brief but noticeable pause:

"Okay."  (I'm clearly learning the way of the Finns! HA.)

I was fighting back tears because I'm at a bus stop among strangers and not quite sure how to take this all in and the doctor was a bit surprised.

"You didn't know about this?  I told your husband that this is a strong possibility...he didn't say anything?"
"Nope - not that I'm aware of."

So she confirms when the next appointment will be and that if I have any questions to feel free to call her.

As soon as I got home, I cried.  I know it can be always worse - I know it and I preach it.
But it still was a shock and I didn't know how to react - so I cried.
Then I stuffed myself with the forbidden chips and ice-cream until the husband got home from work.
Then I quietly cooked a meal without so much as a peep.
When the kids were asleep then I opened my floodgates again and let SH have it.
In all fairness, in case he ever reads this - he defended himself with:

"Mental retardation just means that V-Man's delayed in learning - even basic everyday things.  A developmental delay - which often goes with autism.  We knew that.  It's just a different way of saying it."

I went to the hospital for that meeting a month later and the doctor went over everything on her paper but her main focus was my face.
Not that I had a ginormous zit or anything - but moreso that I was so calm about the whole thing.  (Remember - I did all my crying about a paragraph back/month prior! :) )
But once the words "Your son is showing signs of mental retardation..." - the translator stepped in and shockingly, corrected her.

Sure - medically - the term "retarded" is correct.
However, it didn't seem to appear that Finns are aware of the negative usage of the "R-Word".
The doctor was shocked, apologetic and made a mental note to not use the term "retarded" - so as to not offend other parents (probably ones who wouldn't be nearly as calm as I).

 It's typical in North America as an example to ignorantly say, "You're retarded!  That's so retarded!  What a retard!"

I know - because I'm guilty of growing up hearing that (home, school, everywhere!) and saying that everywhere.

It was only until I got my first "professional" job at a bank did I kick that word out of my vocabulary.  I developed a deep friendship with one of my very best friend's who has Cerebral Palsy and out of respect for her and the fact that it was very rude and hateful to use that word (in my opinion) anyways.
She's the first person I e-mailed and the first one with such a wise and calm response:

"Don't worry.  Labels are for cans.  Not people."

To have V-Man diagnosed with "Autism characteristics" - would never make me think of anyone referring to him as a "retard" - but rather as a kid who's acting weird and has autism.
But now that he has that diagnosis - I was upset.  I sent e-mails and messages to my closest friends I felt comfortable telling and while all were Canadian - many were shocked at the doctor's "casual usage" of the words.
But she was right.  It is a medical condition, it's her professional diagnosis and it's true.
He's far behind in his extremely basic developmental skills and with him not speaking - it's hard to say what he'll be like next year, in 5 years, in 10 or 20 years from now.
But we'll see how things go.   :)

And for those who were wondering what's the latest and greatest hospital/doctor assessment update about the V-Man - well, this is it. :)
It doesn't make me love him any less - if anything - I love him a little more.  I can't imagine the things that go through his mind and I consider him our little trooper because our other two children seem to not be showing any signs of autism or being mentally challenged in any way.


PS I do have some friends that use the R-Word recreationally, so to speak, and no - I don't take offense to it when you use it.  I haven't used it myself in such a long time - it's almost like hearing/reading a foreign language whenever someone does use it.
Nor am I intending for this post to offend anyone in any way.

1 comment:

  1. Oh eep! Please prod me if I use it around you - I don't normally use it regarding developmentally-challenged people, but I do tend to use it in conversation, i.e. "this box labeled BOX is so retarded!" and if it bothers you, I can try to stop and say something "so stupid it's sad and funny."