For many (too many) years, I was in camp no labels! I thought they put kids in boxes unnecessarily. I thought sometimes diagnoses were good and useful but not for the majority of people. I resisted getting Will diagnosed for too long because of the stigma and the sustaining presence in my circles that told me labels were limiting and only appropriate in extreme cases and Will wasn't extreme (of course no one would think daily hours long meltdowns would be extreme...he was verbal after all....finally).
I even started writing my book in the face of people telling me that labels and diagnoses weren't necessary in our case. I am beyond thankful that my feelings about labels and diagnoses changed throughout researching for my book and talking to so many parents.
I learned that diagnoses and labels are only limiting if parents and teachers make them that way. If we make them eye-openers and windows into how our kids operate, they are doors to successful education and life. Knowing that Mack struggled with ADHD meant that I could help create an educational plan and path that worked for his different brain. Knowing Sawyer has dyslexia meant that I could give him the tools he needs to succeed at reading and writing. Knowing Will has autism meant that I could communicate with his brain better and work through his rigidity with him rather than against him.
Conversely, if I had allowed these things to limit them at all, I would have done them a disservice. Had I taken the mindset that Sawyer would never read at grade level, I would have robbed him of the World of Oz which he is now exploring freely thanks to audiobooks with written word. (All the Oz books are open source at www.librivox.com) Had I limited Mack to only learning when he was sitting still, he wouldn't have multiplied unprompted at age four. And, had I deemed Will unable to communicate, read, learn math, he would not be exploring physics and mythology. Instead of deciding to let their diagnoses define them, I forced each one to push out of his comfort zone and explore what life has to offer in a way they can understand. Without knowing their diagnoses though, I wouldn't have been able to figure out how to reach their unique brains.
Even though these kids are higher functioning (I know functioning labels are taboo and I don't feel anyone is better or worse than anyone else based on these labels), labels for those who function differently are still an important window into how they function. A child who struggles with eye contact and seems non-communicative may well be able to communicate in their own way, but without understanding their diagnosis, we cannot figure out what that looks like. Before Will was verbal, he communicated very effectively. We had to pay close attention and even taught him some sign language to help, but we never believed he couldn't communicate.
We have had the pleasure too of working with myriad of special needs people of all abilities through our work at O.A.T.S. In so doing, I have seen many versions of communication that make me smile. I have no doubt their regular caregivers struggle at the fact their children may not speak the words "I love you", but their smiles are heart-warming.
Each diagnosis and method of education has its own challenges and victories, but we must remember that they are not limiting if we don't make them that way. By opening the diagnosis door, we can teach the way kids learn.
If you need help understanding your child's diagnosis, let me know. I am here to help you see the power of the label!