Michelle Garcia, PsyD and Associates - "Improving Quality of Life"
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March 2013

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Raising Awareness and Ridding Stigmas


     For the past 26 years, March has been nationally recognized as the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. One way we can show our support this month is by helping to de-stigmatize the public’s perception of what it means to have an intellectual or developmental disability. I am sure most are aware of and have even overheard someone using the term “retard” (henceforth referred to has the r-word to reduce offensiveness) thrown around casually, or perhaps not so casually as meant to offend someone. An article I recently read drew my attention to the stigma of the r-word, in particular among the unaware youth of today. 

     Authors of “Sticks, Stones, and Stigma: A Study of Students’ Use of the Derogatory Term Retard” analyzed an online survey completed by 1,169 youth between the ages 8 and 18.The study sought to explore who is using the r-word and how it is likely to be used. Additionally authors documented the way in which peers are likely to respond to hearing the word, and the underlying factors influencing those different reactions. 92% of the youth in the study had heard someone use the r-word, but only 36% reported hearing it directed toward someone with an intellectual/developmental disability. Authors found that while most usage of the word was referred to those without I/DD, the youth would be more apt to say something about the usage of the word when it referred to someone with IDD (50%), and that the youth would be more inclined to join in or laugh when a friend used the word (21%) rather than someone who wasn’t a friend (2%). Interestingly enough while 92% reported hearing the word, only 20% admitted to using the word. The problem then lies in purging a word that’s not being used. 

     Though youth may be reluctant to admit using the word, authors point out that it’s only a matter of time before the r-word is replaced with another derogatory slang term. Instead awareness must focus on how the use of the word perpetuates the negative stereotypes that serve to marginalize the I/DD population from society. Authors cite studies that have found an increased contact between those holding negative prejudices against the I/DD population with members of the I/DD population provide chances for positive interactions and dispelling of those stereotypes held, especially when both parties hold equal responsibility and involvement in group activities requiring decision-making skills.  

     These are just a couple of ways to raise awareness and help dispel the myths of those with an intellectual or developmental disability. Yet there are still options for those not in an administrative role to host such activities. One can start by educating themselves about I/DD with available resources. Two great resources to begin with include AAIDD.org and thearc.org. For those who are already aware, spread the word. The Arc has suggested taking social media as the perfect platform, even if it’s just posting “March is Intellectual & Developmental Disability Awareness Month” as a Facebook status or tweet on Twitter...so I suggest we all help spread the word, utilize the available resources, step outside of our norms, and get out and attend local events tied to I/DD Awareness Month. 

 References Siperstein, G., Pociask, S., & Collins, M. (2010). Sticks, stones, and stigma: A study of students’ use of the derogatory term “retard”. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 48(2), 126-134. [1]What Can I Do? [Blog Posting] retrieved from Arc.org on 3/4/2013. [2]Resources on the AAIDD Approach to Diagnosis, Classification, and Systems of Support. [Discussion Board Posting]retrieved from AAID.org on 3/4/2013. 

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