How does having a label affect our children?

Dear Friend,

Labels, labels, labels… We continue to wrestle with the “autistic” label and what it means for our son as I am sure many parents do. How does having a label affect our children?

I first encountered this dilemma when we began the diagnostic process. Family and friends were quick to offer support and advice most of which was meant to reassure. Actually it lead to several heated discussions as well meaning people told us, there’s nothing wrong with that kid or he’s as bright as a button. I also received some cautionary tales about labeling kids too early and damaging them. Why was I chasing a diagnosis? In the hope that the big lad would receive the 'right' support. 

In her article for the Autism Asperger’s Digest, Do not get trapped by labels.  Temple Grandin wrote:
“Schools and insurance companies require diagnostic labels in order to get services. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many smart kids labeled ASD getting fixated on their autism. I think it would be healthier for the child to be fixated on art, writing, science, or some other special interest. Too many kids are becoming their label.” Temple Grandin.

By allowing my child to be labeled was I providing support or indeed limiting his opportunities?

How has the label affected the big lad? A colleague gave us some excellent advice, to tell the big lad he had a busy body and as he got older we extended this to a busy brain. As he has grown and needed further support through behavioral therapy and group therapy with other autistic children we have had to introduce the term autistic. Initially this was a huge success as he made that connection (I am not stupid, I have autism and there are other people like me) but more lately he has become ‘fixated’ on the autism (...that happens because I have autism.) Is he in danger of becoming his label?

I found a brilliant book and we are busy making a special version for my special boy. The title is; Autistic? How silly is that! I don’t need any labels at all and it is written by Lynda Farrington Wilson. The dedication in the front of the book says it all.

“ To all our children who may have been seen by their label, and not for their brilliance of heart, mind and spirit…may they continue to shine, shine, shine!”

After almost 20 years experience in education I have a problem seeing how something so unique and individual as a child can be squeezed into a box and labeled, ASD or ADHD or …(insert your label). This is especially true of disorders that cannot be easily defined and tested. Very often children fit into several categories. But the problem parents have is that in order to access support we do not have a choice, we must label our children! 

Perhaps our job as parents is to ensure that our children are appropriately challenged. Having autism does not mean that your experiences or opportunities should be limited, in fact, I think that the opposite is true. Autistic children need to have a wider range of experiences and be given every opportunity to shine! 

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