Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Labeling Children

A comment I read the other day got the gears in my brain turning on the subject of labels.

For years and years teachers and school administrators have been warned about the evils of labeling the children they teach, which I believe has actually resulted in some teachers denying or avoiding labels altogether.

Unfortunately I believe that there has been a fair amount of misinterpretation on this subject, and perhaps it would be wiser to ask people to avoid mis-labeling children. Let me explain:

Going all black-and-white and deciding on day 3 of school which kids are "bad" and which kids are "good" is... well... you shouldn't be a teacher.

Telling a parent (who comes to you with paperwork from 3 separate doctors suggesting a child is in the autism spectrum and requires a certain amount of extra help to succeed) that you don't believe in "labeling children" and would rather just "wing it" until you discover what works for their child isn't a great idea either.

First, there is a BIG difference between a label and a stereotype. Stereotyping a group of people based upon some incongruous collection of almost-similar characteristics is... well... Bad! It is no more sensible to say that "all children with Asperger's avoid eye contact" than it is to say "all girls like to wear pretty dresses to school every day," or that "all white people enjoy elevator music." (Sorry, but seriously... do elevators even like elevator music?)

Labels, when properly given and properly used, can provide a kind of starting point. Raising and teaching children is a little like cooking.

Um... not that kind of cooking...

A recipe for a specific dish would not be passed from generation to generation if it were not somehow unique and special. Most of us don't eat hamburgers each and every night because there are so many other wonderful dishes to sample (...mmmm... hamburgers sound good... ) But if you want to make spaghetti one night, you don't go buy hamburger buns or fire up the grill... unless your spaghetti is a lot different from my spaghetti.

While most meals are fairly straight-forward and won't require you to pull out Grandma's dog-eared recipe folder each time you are ready to make dinner, every now and then you may be called upon to make something special.

That is when the labels become extra-special handy!

Lets just say you've been asked by family members to bring a pumpkin pie to your family reunion. Unless you grow your own pumpkins, most (average) people will run to the store and grab a few cans of pumpkin pie filling as well as the necessary ingredients for the crust-thing you're supposed to put the filling in. (Honestly... what were people thinking asking you to bake a pie? Next year you'll insist on bringing the chips like you did last year... )

So - time to get cooking! But which can do you use?

From this angle they look about the same, but I can guarantee that unless your family wants to be treated to "country-style string bean and potato pie," you'll be wise to determine which can to use by it's label and not its circumference!

When a valid label (endorsed by multiple specialists) exists, it can make for a good starting point. Don't let that label turn into a stereotype and assume that because the XYZ method worked to help Jedidiah learn to talk that that method will work for little Janine just because both children have Down syndrome. Utilize the label to find what mechanics may be at play which could be delaying Janine's speech. Perhaps her narrow Eustachian tubes have caused the inner ear to fill with fluid and she can't hear the words properly. Perhaps she has a slightly larger tongue and can't fully control it yet. The label is just used to know what to look for - not an an entire recipe for success, just as the pumpkin pie filling label just tells you what the can contains, and not how to make a pie, complete with crust.

Same concept with kids with other special needs. Know what's in the can before you try to create a world-class (or a ready-for-the-world class) dinner from it.

So yeah - I totally dig labels. Especially these labels:

Oh thank goodness you reminded me. I'd hate to lose my ability to flip off bad drivers!

So true!

 The message here is clear. To get out of the trunk after unwittingly falling in while loading groceries and then closing the top instead of just climbing back out, pull the little handle installed in there by car designers who kindly assumed that you're a moron, jump out and run to blog about what a stupid thing you just did!

 And my personal favorite:
Ad did you know Andy Warhol was also believed to have Asperger's? 
No wonder his work is so great!

And in other news, we won't need that canned pumpkin pie filling after all!

Our crazy (you know how I am about labels) pumpkin plant has no roots due to the unwanted advances of a hungry chipmunk. Darn critter chewed through the entire stalk when the plant was about 20 feet long.

 Online sources say that a plant can't grow pumpkins without the roots (or the first 10 feet of the main stalk) but apparently our pumpkin plant didn't get the memo. As a mom, I just think you have to believe in a pumpkin... you know? It proceeded to climb up the fence, wind its way through a few times, and then produce a pumpkin! Darn pumpkin is so heavy I've had to tie it to the fence so it doesn't break its own stalk.

And the tomatoes are beyond delicious. Yes - this is one of ours:

Here are our plants as they attempt a hostile takeover of our neighbor's back yard.

Well - you didn't think that gi-hugo hunk of a tomato came from some sad, wimpy plant did you? These things are so tenacious I've had to cage them all up to prevent them from escaping from the back yard! I'd hate our local police to be forced to put out an APB for runaway tomato plants!  We'd probably find them at the local high school football field where they'd be yelling "you wanna piece of me?" at the varsity linebackers.

Anywhoo... the moral of this blog is: don't fear labels. And: Don't believe everything you read about pumpkins. And don't try to make pumpkin pie with string beans... it probably won't work well.



  1. This is one of the most awesome posts I have ever read! I love it! Thank you so much for writing it. Would you mind if I posted a link in our local Asperger's Parent Blog and website?

  2. You absolutely have permission to link to this blog. If it can be helpful to others in any way, that's what it's all about!

  3. Oh the label vs no label war! I know it all too well!
    I had a student who was an Aspie. Textbook example. Even blind Freddy could see that this kid was on the spectrum.
    The diagnosis team refused to diagnose him because they didn't want to "unfairly label him".
    They said this about a child who is so autistic that his desk has to face the wall in class and when asked a question he gave you some random fact about something completely unrelated.
    It was unfair not to label him!!

  4. It is no more sensible to say that "all children with Asperger's avoid eye contact" than it is to say "all girls like to wear pretty dresses to school every day

    THIS! Because of course, all kids on the spectrum are going to behave JUST like Raymond in "Rain Man".

  5. THANK YOU for this post! I may just print it out and give it to each professional who tells me that while "child in question" has many characteristics of "x", they would hate to label him!!!!


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