After I shared this post I had an overwhelming response of people saying one of two things – the majority was that they were grateful someone else had shared their experience and they too had suffered from the label game. The second response was that children who are DIAGNOSED are done so for a reason and I was being insensitive. I want to reiterate, and make it abundantly clear, this is NOT about children being labelled once diagnosed – a diagnosis and a label are two very different things. Children who are diagnosed are done so through a painstaking process that takes years – not someone who throws the term out like confetti at a wedding. To those that misunderstood my point – I hope that clarifies it, because my point still stands. Stop labelling children.
I read a piece recently about labelling children and how the mother (and writer) was sick of hearing people say they didn’t want a label for their child, that it was a positive thing to help accommodate understanding for children who needed that extra bit of help, how it must be embraced by parents. As I read the piece I couldn’t help but feel irritated by the author. As a mother of an autistic child, she was in a unique position where a ‘label’ would help her child, and hopefully help her to get the tools that she needed to further her child’s education and help them live a life that is more centred to the way they see the world and helps others to see it through their eyes.
This mother did not represent the thousands of mothers who she was throwing her bitter rhetoric at, and she didn’t represent me.
My son is now four years old, he is bright, intelligent and cheeky. He has the attention span of a knat (unless it is about transformers) and he is flighty when it comes to work ethic. He is not, nor has he ever been, autistic. He doesn’t have ADHD. He doesn’t have Aspergers or hyperactivity.
When Reuben was about 18 months old, we made the decision to send him to a local nursery and preschool (I’ve mentioned it a few times on the blog) and initially Roo grew in confidence and flourished. Until he moved from the nursery side of things to the preschool. Then we started to have problems. Within a matter of weeks we were told that Reuben was an unusually hyperactive child, and he might have some kind of hyperactivity disorder. A few months passed and we were told that ADHD might be on the cards, and eventually, we were told that it was the owner’s belief that Reuben had Aspergers. He was 3 years old at this point.
Now as first time parents (to Reuben) we did everything we could to look into this – there were tears and upset because we were frightened that people would see our beautiful boy as ‘abnormal’ or a ‘weirdo’, but our overwhelming feeling was that, if it was best for Reuben then who the hell cares what ‘label’ he has? Until we discovered that we weren’t the only parents who had been told this, until we discovered that we were one of several families to be told by the preschool that our child was ‘suspected’ to be autistic, have aspergers or ADHD. Unfortunately, among the health professionals in the area this particular place has a bad reputation for ‘labelling’ children that aren’t easily manipulated and don’t comply to every instruction or just sit quietly and work/read. The further I dug into the situation, the more I discovered that it isn’t at all unusual for children to be labelled as a cop out – in fact it is quite a common practice.
To me, some children (Reuben being one of them) test boundaries more thoroughly – and rightly so, we need to remember that children are human beings, with their own views and ideas. That is exactly how it should be, as parents, teachers and influential adults, we are there to guide children and help them make the right choices, not to squash their personalities and replace it with ours – or if we can’t do that, label them as ‘different’ or having a disorder. As adults, I feel it’s also our responsibility to allow children to test the boundaries that we put in place, but to hold firm to those boundaries – to be strict. I don’t feel that a child who requires you to be a stricter adult therefore needs you to label them, if anything that is such lazy teaching or parenting. I’m not talking about children who obviously require help at school, or in life in general, my husband’s nephew is Autistic and its a blessing he has the help he does, I’m talking about children who are ‘naughty’ in school, extroverted (or introverted) in their attitudes and sometimes struggle to make friends. Instead of ‘labelling’ these children, how about we ask them simply questions like, what made you hit so and so, is there a reason you don’t want to play with your friends, etc etc.
I’m not saying its easy, or something to be taken lightly – every parent should be aware that there are various ‘conditions’ (I don’t like to use the word disorders, it makes it sound like something wrong) that make their child see the world differently to others, but you have to realise that children also see the world differently to adults and we need to adjust our expectations to meet their ability, not push a label onto them so that we can make sense of their behaviour more comfortably.