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Kids are not can goods who can be summed up by their label--not even close.

Updated: Jul 15



"Must be true, it says so right on the label.": WRONG.

While labels and diagnoses can provide useful information for determining services and treatment plans, they are not the final word on your child, not even close. This is true because we don’t fully understand the interplay between the clinical diagnosis or educational label and how a child is subsequently viewed and treated by the people in his orbit. The water is muddied, making it difficult to tease out what is real and what is the result of years of lowered expectations, unintentional bias, differential treatment, and missed opportunities. This includes the impact of the beliefs and actions of influential people on your child's performance over time.


For all these reasons it is important that parents of kids with special needs guard against the tendency to attribute every skill deficit or difficult behavior to their child’s label or diagnosis. This attitude can lead to blanket acceptance of a characteristic or behavior by virtue of the fact that it is generally thought to be associated with the condition or label. This is not to say that our kids do not experience serious challenges. They do. However, I would argue that the wholesale acceptance of a symptom or indication is too simplistic. Because, while it provides us with a tidy explanation for why our kid is not attending in class, is smarting off to the teacher, lacks social skills, or is lagging behind in math or reading, it also leads to a sense of complacency and lowered expectations.


Parents can adopt a “this is just how things are going to be for this kid, see it says so right on the label” attitude toward their child. Even worse, when behavior gets more aberrant, social skills regress further, or gaps in school performance widen, because we expected it, we take cover behind the characteristic or symptom as if failure or poor performance is a foregone conclusion. "Rosario has autism so we expect her to be uninterested in other people, Jamal has ADHD so we expect him not to attend, Johnnie stutters so we expect him not to participate in class, and so on.

Inevitably when behavior gets more aberrant, social skills regress further, or gaps in school performance widen, we take cover behind the characteristic or symptom as if failure or poor performance is a foregone conclusion.

The listing of symptoms associated with a clinical diagnosis are also called “indications”. In the case of a label they are called characteristics. They are not like the ingredient list on a can of corn or cereal box that tells you the sum total of what is inside. They are merely a listing of attributes typically associated with the condition. They are not all causal. So, instead of buying into that list of indications or characteristics lock, stock, and barrel, pay attention to your child. How is he or she behaving, acting, moving, communicating?


The specific uniqueness’s that make your child who she is, may help her defy the odds.


* Your child's love of music may open the door to friendships with other kids with similar interests and could ignite a lifelong passion.


* What may seem like an inappropriate preoccupation, like your child's fixation with touching soft fabrics might be leveraged to get a job unloading and hanging garments at a clothing store.


*Your child's fascination with numbers could help him get in the MathCounts Club at school which could gain him respect among peers and open the door to new relationships.

I advocate trusting what you see in your child, over what the label or diagnosis proclaims they are capable of. Sure, be aware of and get support for specific issues and weaknesses, but put at least equal if not more effort to "seeing" your child's particular assets, motivations, and interests. These are not to be ignored because they may give him or her an edge in overcoming challenges.


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High Expectations Parenting

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