Early on, we knew that our son was behaving differently than other children, which we started noticing when he was about a year old. We fought to get him referred to a health professional, with the help of his preschool after several incidents. However, when attending appointments, we were told that there was nothing wrong and were asked to go home. Many people, such as friends and family members, started to say to us ‘why do you want to go and see someone, they might label your child’. We were always confused by such statements from people close to us, but we decided to just ignore it.
So off we went to the paediatrician with our referral to get a diagnosis, if indeed there was one. Again came the cries, from friends and family, ‘why do you want to go down this route and label your son, it will stigmatise him forever…..’. Again, we ignored them, though it left us feeling very disappointed.
The power of a diagnosis
We finally did get a diagnosis and a big label. After all this, we now knew why our son was so unhappy and confused. Why he didn’t want to go to school, often running out behind me in the mornings with me trying to convince him to go back in. Why he behaved the way he did, why he was not learning and why we were experiencing so much upset, causing problems at home and socially. The diagnosis gave us the tools and the knowledge to finally support our son and for us to understand his needs. Also, school was now able to put things in place to help and teachers were able to give him the attention he needed. Even things like setting up a rota allowing him to run around the playground when he needed it. Equally important, his friends started to understand him and accept his ‘funny’ ways. Without a diagnosis, we could never had accessed the help he so badly required. Ultimately, we were able to move forward and secure the support that was required in order for our son’s life, but also ours, to become better and more settled.
The trap of being judgemental
I am confident that you would seek answers from someone, maybe a doctor or health professional. You would find out what was ‘wrong’ with your child. Maybe it transpires that your child has a lifelong condition such as diabetes, asthma or eye sight complications. If this was the case, your child would have to see a specialist to help them with this condition.
School would be involved and you would need to find out about the implications of the diagnosis. Doing your research would help you understand why your child is feeling the way they are, and surely, it would be a relief for you to finally be able to ease your child’s suffering. Bottom line, now your child has been given a diagnosis albeit it is a medical label.
Why is a special needs label any different?
People often ask my opinion about their child, as they know I will understand, and often they are starting on the special needs ladder which means they may be scared of getting a ‘label’. My advice is that a special needs label is not a bad thing or a stigma any more than a child being labelled with a medical condition or illness. For any parent, it’s simply a way to get the help you and your child need by clarifying the details of the presenting condition. How you react to the label is entirely up to you.
We have always taught our son to be proud of who he is. We tell him to rise above people’s ignorance and take the time to educate them. Our son is now 14 and we give him the freedom to use his ‘label’ or diagnosis how he chooses. If he wants people to know about his diagnosis he will tell them, if he doesn’t, he keeps quiet. However, he knows now that telling the right people, those who need to know, is nothing to be afraid of. He understands that it helps people around him to be educated as it allows them the opportunity to be open minded, and not judgemental, of someone with special needs. Understanding is a big step toward helping people with special needs. My last advice, please do not let others persuade you to change your mind about your own child. A ‘special needs label’ is just a diagnosis just like any other diagnosis.
By Jenny Dunton
Labelling your child - stigma or step in the right direction?
Here at Support 4 Kids, we would love to hear your thoughts on this important and personal topic covered by Jenny. Please feel free to send us an email, or write your comments directly below this article. You may also wish to look at our non-profit special needs awareness initiative on our special needs campaign page. Thanks.