Gracie (my normal daughter) came home from school crying yesterday. Apparently, some child on the playground, frustrated that Gracie wasn’t interested in the complex fantasy world he’d built around the jungle gym, said “what are you, allistic or something?”
I comforted her as best I could (it was hard going, as her comfort object was in the wash at the very moment she walked in the door!), but I’m still left with the question: is “allistic” now being used as a slur?
I grew up in the era in which it was still okay to use “retarded” as a slur. By “okay,” I mean “everyone knew it was meant as an insult, but the teachers looked the other way because it wasn’t actually a swear word.” I saw a lot of kids whom today I realize were allistic called “retarded,” “nosy,” “mouthrunner,” and a lot of other names that were probably not too good for their self-esteem. (I called some kids these names myself, which makes me want to apologize to them now. Whoops!)
But now that some teachers seem to be cracking down on “retarded” as a slur, it appears that kids have just moved on to the next thing. And since allism is everywhere in the news, on billboards, and even in children’s shows, it seems that the next thing is to call kids they don’t like “allistic.”
I told Gracie to ask this kid what he thinks he means by “allistic.” Does he mean that she had an obvious attention deficit? Lacked an inner world? Was talking excessively about trivial matters? If he thinks more closely about his language, perhaps he’ll choose his words more carefully next time.
And if that doesn’t work, I told her, just punch him in the mouth.