I am Mentally Retarded
In North America we do not say “mentally retarded” anymore. Instead, it is “mentally challenged,” “mentally handicapped,” “cognitively challenged,” or some other politically correct variant. But I use it now, refusing to believe that any adult person reading this does not understand what I mean. The general custom by the unfamiliar is to equate low intelligence (IQ score) with mental retardation, when in fact that is not an accurate association. It is a common, mistaken generalization. Technically, in order for a person rightly to be considered “retarded”they had to have both a low IQ quotient (lower than 70 on the Stanford-Binet Test, I think), in addition to what was called “socially maladaptive”behavior. This “in addition” is important because low intelligence alone is not sufficient grounds to categorize a person “retarded.”
I like to use the character Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks in the movie of the same name, as an example. Although Forrest Gump has low intelligence - borderline for a retarded person, but not actually below 70-points - his behavior was anything but“maladaptive.” In fact, just the opposite is true. Gump’s behavior was extremely adaptive, which accounts for his incredible, unpredictable success in many fields of endeavor, and sets the stage for the comedy of the film, much as Woody Allen’s character in another film, Zelig. Now, if Gump had a disturbing habit of banging his head against walls until he injured himself in addition to his low IQ score, then we might say that he was mentally retarded. But that was not the case, and he wasn’t, really. Now Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rainman, is an autistic savant. He is a prodigy with numbers, but otherwise his IQ is probably impossible to measure. And, in addition, he has the pathological habit of beating himself about the head whenever he gets upset (which Tom Cruise does quite a few times in the film). So it is much easier to justifiably call Raymond “retarded,” although autism support services and organizations would probably strongly reject such a description.
I think of myself and other foreigners living in Japan. I think I would not be unfair to myself if I said that I am mentally retarded by the definition I offered above. At least, in this society I am. Because language is such an important element in one’s performance on an IQ test, my first point is that, not having the necessary Japanese language skills I would be doomed to fail utterly on any Japanese IQ test. Since it is known and admitted that language and language use play a seminal role in IQ test performance, many North American designers of modern IQ tests strive to create the ‘perfect test,’ by seeking the levelest playing field possible for all test takers - a test where formal education (and, therefore, language skills), or lack thereof does not inappropriately prejudice the results for or against a person. I think it is an utterly impossible goal, but that hasn’t stopped some psychologists at American universities vainly boasting that they have devised the ‘perfect’ test.
My next point is that as a foreigner in Japan - a “gaijin,”or “outside person” - my behavior is “maladaptive” almost by definition. No matter how long I live here, what my Japanese language and communication skills are, and no matter my connections to the culture and the society I will never be included in Japanese people’s imaginations. Even if I changed my citizenship and became a naturalized Japanese I would still be considered a “gaijin.”
Therefore, the two components of a diagnosis of mental handicap are true of me in Japan. I am unable to participate in society and I am unable to communicate in society - which, by the way, is exactly how I always felt in Canadawhen I was growing up and living there. From that perspective, living in Japan is much the same as living in Canada for me.