Conundrum by definition means something confusing or puzzling. Let’s be honest for a second, there is a lot of confusion and apprehension associated with “labeling” a child with a diagnosis and telling others about it. It’s a tough call. I’ll just scratch the surface a bit in this blog. My personal take on the “labels” depends it’s on how and why the “labels” are used. We have so many children who fall through the cracks for such a variety of reasons and yet if they had that “label” they could get resources, therapies and treatments that are specifically geared for that particular type of child. While other children fall through the cracks because of the “label” we have being used to define who they are and what they are capable of. It’s a doubled edged sword.
“Labels” can be useful. However, they needed to be exercised with great responsibility and caution. I liken it to what Uncle Ben told Spiderman’s alter ego Peter Parker, “Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.” Those “labels” that we give our children while necessary are also very powerful and if used improperly can lead to more harm than good. It’s also a fine line that can easily be crossed if we aren’t maintaining constant vigilance. Why I say that is because even if we choose to use the “labels” appropriately, others may not. That includes the ones that the “label” was meant to help.
Those “labels” are helpful in obtaining therapies and resources. Often, without that attachment we are struggling to get others to understand some of the obstacles and challenges our children may face. Yet, if presented in the wrong manner, that is all people will see; the “labels” and challenges looming overhead like a storm cloud. The true benefit of a “label” happens when people realize that a “label” doesn’t define the individual and uses it as a resource to give tools to work through those challenges to those individuals.
Another drawback to a “label” is the fact that often it brings about a blanketed idea of what is being dealt with. When you get that diagnosis it’s often because you met so many criterions. It’s not that you are all identical in how it presents itself. Every person is unique in how something manifests itself. Take the autism spectrum and how vast and wide it is and see how different each case is to understand that point. Not everyone will have the same challenges or obstacles. That “label” is a guideline as to narrow down the roadways on a map in what may help someone.
We also have to be willing to educate and stand up to those who will use it as an excuse or crutch rather than an explanation of what might be going on with an individual. Including the ones that the “labels” are there to protect and help. We need people to learn to see a big picture no matter the diagnosis. They need to look and see both strengths and weaknesses. To find the assets of individuals and help them build upon those strengths as well as to learn their deficits and find ways to help them rise above those weaknesses. No matter what we see on the surface or find in the blanket definition of a “label”, everyone has strong points and weak points that they can learn from. The best place to start is to encourage them to not let a “label” define who they are and to challenge them to find out who they are. Teach them that they get to choose who they become. They don’t have to be a victim of their circumstances, unless we allow them to be.
It’s a challenge sometimes knowing where that line is and when the explanation becomes the excuse. The key is to be willing to have consequences for actions. While others may challenge the severity or levity of a consequence for an action, it ultimately comes to us to determine what will be understood and not derail progresses made. We can start by teaching our children that they can raise above the sum of their diagnosis and “label” by reminding them it doesn’t define them. We can use these “labels” as tools to help them navigate life.
This is what we are as parents, caregivers, educators and emotional/physical/health providers are suppose to be doing. Sometimes we are walking blind without having an understanding of what the child needs. Often the only way to get the information of what that child may be dealing with is to have that “label”. It’s not there to say that someone is defective or not “normal”. Normal isn’t even a setting on a dryer anymore. There is no such thing as normal. That “label” is there to say stop and proceed knowing what roadwork may be on that path.
Once you get past that sucker punch a “label” and diagnosis can give you, you start to process you next move; like in a game of chess. You observe the moves you need to counter in order to overcome the other side. Once you understand that hope remains that there will be options. The hope is that those obstacles will not be roadblocks. We cling to the hope that they can still choose their path in life with a few more obstacles to overcome to get there.
I know for some people it is very scary to think of their child with a “label”. Sometimes it happens because people just aren’t ready for a diagnosis; they are still in denial. When it happens though once the realization of what it means begins to sink in that “label” can be the most valuable tool that they have. It’s the start of understanding what that child’s needs may be. Along with that though begins the challenge of separating a “label” from a human being that has feelings and needs. A “label” is neither their name nor who they are or will become. Be kind. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle you may never know anything about.