Name Change For…Who Are They Again?

I spent 6 years working for the State of Texas MHMR in a state run hospital (MHMR = Mental Health and Mental Retardation).  It was a great job, and the patients were the best.  I dealt more with the “acute care” for mental health (“the crazies from the streets”), and really enjoyed my job.  Being able to see the way a patient progressed into a healthy mental state, and knowing that I played an important role in that, brought me a lot of satisfaction.  Having someone say upon discharge, “You really helped me.  I appreciate you putting up with me.  That isn’t how I normally act” was a big reward for me.

I left because of the hierarchy, and the movement towards what I now call “progressivism”.  Patients, who were not of their right mind, given “rights” that should never be given.  Such as destroying furniture (we were told we were no longer allowed to restrain them to cause them to stop…just to let them do what they will do), where we then had an entire unit of patients who would have to go without because of the destruction.  Don’t get me wrong…I fully support the rights of patients to be treated individually, humanely, and without the use of fear as a motivator (or violence as a cure).  But what I saw was something similar to “Spock parenting” being employed in the field of mental health.  I still (15 years later) think it is the wrong path to take, and does not serve the persons right to dignity when you allow them to behave in such a manner (and then present them with a bill for their destructiveness upon discharge, knowing full well you never intend to make anyone pay.  It is like pouring salt in a fresh wound, in my opinion).

You can then imagine my amusement when I see the following making headlines in Texas:

MHMR announces name change

The Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers Inc. has announced it has changed its name to the Texas Council of Community Centers, according to a release from the organization.

The name change comes after a decision by the board of directors to replace the use of the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disabilities” in all official documents, the Texas Council said.

“Our name change is a simple, yet powerful statement of respect and regard for people with intellectual disabilities who want what every good citizen wants: family, friends, a meaningful job and the opportunity to give back to a caring community,” said Danette Castle, chief executive officer of the Texas Council.

According to the Texas Council, following years of advocacy efforts and unanimous approval by Congress, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law into effect Oct. 5.

The law, inspired by Rosa Marcellino, a child with Down syndrome, calls for the elimination of the term “mental retardation” and replaces it with the term “intellectual disabilities” in federal health, education and labor statutes.

The Texas Council said it made the name change to support of Rosa’s Law and out of respect for people with intellectual disabilities.


I know a few folks with Down Syndrome.  In my opinion, although at an intellectual disadvantage, people with Down’s tend to portray the best in humanity.  Loving, concerned, friendly…for what lacks in the size of the intellect it is more than made up for in heart.  When I was once asked what I would do if I found that my soon to be child (he is 12 now) had Down Syndrome, I readily stated, “Nothing but try to love him as much as he will love me.”  Strangely, I have done that anyway…but I digress.

I know many, many people with various types of mental illness.  I live in a town with a mental hospital, not to mention a day and age where everyone carries a diagnosis of something or other (usually in place of holding themselves accountable for bad behavior).  I do not, however, have a whole host of MR people involved in my life.  So what I say next may be completely off target.  It is based on my own observations.

It would seem that offense to the word “retarded” is held mostly by people who are not retarded.  Some are sensitive because they have family members, or have seen the horrible way that humans tend to treat other humans, especially when they have a disadvantage.  Many others just have this compassionate heart and feel that the word “retarded” has negative connotations (which it does).

But people who truly carry the diagnosis of retarded…does it bother them?  I know I have seen someone who is MR get mad at being called “retarded” by a clinician.  But that was always in response to the memory of someone calling them that name, intending a “put down”.  I get the same response when I am messing with a niece and tell her, “Oh yeah?  Well you are a republican!”  She doesn’t really know what it means, but if I call her “republican” it surely must be bad and she goes and tells her mom what her Bigmeanfatfurryuncle said to her (usually getting me chastised with a “Stop picking on the kids” from my sister).

It just seems strange to me that we would rename an entire state level organization (along with reprinting all materials that have the “MHMR” label/title on them, all while facing a 25 billion dollar budget shortfall statewide) to placate the offense of people who are not even referenced.  But even more strange is that we rename it to something that is as vague as can possibly be.

“Community Centers” calls to mind a place for local kids to play hoops, or get help with homework, or maybe someone get help paying an electric bill one month.  We already have places called “community centers”, and their customers are more than just MHMR patients.

Will community centers not like the negative connotations being given to their names, and seek changes in their name?  What happens in 10 years when terms like “intellectually challenged” become the new “put down”?  You know, when I was a kid they referred to MR kids as “special”.  Now when you want to put someone down, you can call them “special”.  Tell someone at the office that they are special, and the local wise guy will chime in with “Yeah, they’re special, alright.”

In 30 years it will just be known as “The Center”.  That way no one will feel stigmatized, except for political moderates.


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