Saturday, April 14, 2007

Riding the Short Bus

The “short bus” is an enduring comedic device, even in the 21st century, as are jokes about the Special Olympics. In this age of political correctness, the mentally retarded are still an acceptable target for ridicule. A certain amount of PC governs their labeling – “cognitively challenged”, “developmentally disabled”, but “retard” is still a widely-used insult.

My 21-year-old son rides the short bus every day. Despite years of instruction, he can barely remember his own address and phone number, and his signature looks like that of a typical first-grader. He can read simple words, like “Men” and “Exit” but the most basic mathematical computations are far beyond his abilities. He is a burden to society, although the cost of his upkeep is offset somewhat by my tax contributions.

My son is a real person though, and not just a “case”. He likes all-star wrestling, video games, and popular music. He saves soft drink cans to raise money for charities. He talks to friends on the phone. He was on the Special Olympics championship basketball team, and the championship bowling team, in the same year (2006). He is shy around strangers, but talkative and witty with family members – his answer to the question, “where are your manners?” is, “in my other pants.”

In many ways, it has been easier to be a mother to him, than to his “normal” older brother. He never wanted to skip school, and is unhappy when school is closed due to bad weather. He never sneaked out of the house, never drank or used drugs, never took money out of my purse.

My younger son will most likely never marry, never have children, never have a job outside of a sheltered workshop, but his value as a person is undiminished. Think about this person whom I love, when you are tempted to call someone a “retard”, or joke about the “short bus”.

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