The descriptor "retarded" for people whom fate has endowed with less than average intelligence is outdated and offensive, but it used to merely mean less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one's age. Now the word is considered offensive, an unkind pejorative, “Retard!” It has always implied foolish or stupid.
One of my first jobs fifty years ago was as a houseparent for ten “retarded” boys in a cottage setting. That word was used in the 1970s as a euphemism for the former terms of feebleminded or simpleton which had worn out their use as euphemisms for fool or idiot. It all refers to those of less than average intelligence. I was initially frightened by my boys, they had such strange appearances and unusual mannerisms. I actually had to be talked into taking the job, but once I settled in I quickly noticed the extraordinary kindness of those pre-teen boys who were in my care, to each other and to me. To this day I think of “my boys” with warm affection.
I was reminded of the kindness of the “retarded” earlier this month while holiday shopping. It was at the end of a long day, I was still tired from strenuous activity on the day before, and for the umpteenth time that day I dropped something. It rolled under my electric cart, and a young woman swooped in to pick it up for me. She stayed to talk to me for a while. I noticed the tell-tale signs of mental retardation, the slight Mongoloid slant of her eyes, her flattened facial features, her short stature, her simplistic way of speaking; but I was warmed by her effusive affection in pausing in her busy shopping expedition to spend some time with me. She saw that I was sad, she cheered me up for a while, she gave me a nice hug, and off she went with a wave and a sweet smile. Despite the difficulties that her mental disability must have caused her umpteen times each day, she had sympathy and affection for me, someone she did not even know. The word “retarded” has various abstractual meanings, but to me it is associated with kindness amidst difficulties.
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018