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When My Son Was Born I Learned How Powerful Words Can Be

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
07/21/20  12:06 PM PST
How Powerful Words Can Be

“With no previous experience being marginalized or on the receiving end of slurs, I lacked experience with how powerful words can be and how badly they can sting.”

When I was a teenager I had a string of crushes. And with every new crush, there was a name that made my heart go pitter-patter. It seemed like my ears pricked up at the sound of a certain name, becoming almost supersonic when that name was uttered in the high school hallway. I still remember most of those names, that’s how strong the connection of our ears to our heart and mind.

When my son was born with Down syndrome, a similar thing happened. I fell in love, head over heels, and with that new love came a new set of ultra-sensitive ears. Eighteen years later, my ears still prick at certain words. When someone says “Down syndrome” in public, I feel like Beetlejuice being summoned. My ears also prick words like “autism”, “sensory processing disorder”, “ADHD”, “disabled” and in a very different way, the dreaded “R” word. 

In the early days, before my mama bear status leveled up, it felt like a constant barrage…

I remember shopping with my daughter and hearing a group of teenagers throwing the “R” word around. I felt like launching an attack but didn’t want to spoil the mother-daughter day. Then, not a week later, a coworker of my husband’s stopped by. They were talking shop and the other guy dropped the “R” word in my house. After much build-up, I simply couldn’t take it. The word landed as I emerged from my son’s room after laying him down for a nap. My husband could see the redness rise in my face and the steam spout from my ears before the volcano exploded from the top of my head in nearly cartoonish slow-motion. He never got the chance to say anything as I barreled down the hall and put his acquaintance in his place. 

That scenario has since reached legendary status. And I have learned in the meantime that it wasn’t a great response to a teachable moment. The pressure had been built up, and when it released, it let off in grand fashion.

With no previous experience being marginalized or on the receiving end of slurs, I lacked experience with how powerful words can be and how badly they can sting. It was easy for me to think that movements to either reclaim slurs or to strike them from the collective vocabulary were frivolous, now I know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Words Have Power

This is why I started writing, why I share my experiences. Words can be used to lift up, or to tear down; to honor or to degrade; to unite, or to divide; to bring life, or to extinguish it. We can’t all know every way that words might hurt another, but when we commit to learning, growing, and improving, the more our words will bring life, unite, honor, and lift up. Listening is our first step in a long, beautiful journey. 

My first step started the day my son was born, but you don’t have to wait until a person in your house is impacted. Won’t you join me on this path of honoring all?


inclusion on the playground

Alethea Mshar is a Special Needs Mom and Blogger.

Read her blog, Ben’s Writing, Running Mom

Follow her on Facebook


1 Comment

  1. Sandra D.
    Posted July 29, 2020 at 12:59 pm PDT

    Beautiful picture and thanks for sharing your experience. Such a good teaching moment.

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