Labeling Children for Accommodations: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
today at 12:47 pm
If you saw my Facebook page a week ago, you would have seen I put Dyslexia Awareness Month as the frame around my profile photo. A friend, who was labeled dyslexic growing up, vehemently cautioned me about using labels.
I know how horrific school was for him. Now this was mostly in the 1960s and early 70s, and while some things have changed, much remains the same. He made some good points, taught me, and got me to reflect A LOT. So, I want to share some of what I learned with you.
A law was passed in 1975 (PL94-142) that changed things for the better, thankfully. However, sometimes appropriate treatment still slips through the cracks. All children deserve to be treated as individuals with a sense of belonging to the group and respect from all.
First of all,
Avoids judgments. Let me begin by saying be careful – VERY CAREFUL – before you ever label any child.
No one has the right to judge a child…EVER.
Labels stick like a bad tattoo and are just as hard and painful as a tattoo to remove.
So, think before you call a child slow, special, unable, or retarded. These are damaging, mean tattoos to give. You may create lifelong issues for that person
Only use terminology broadly accepted by professionals. If you are going to label a child with dyslexia, autistism, ADHD, or apply any other label that may warrant accommodations, make sure you are following the facts and criteria. Name calling, such as calling a child slow, is being judgmental and has no use.
Think about what the label will accomplish for the child. If you don’t know, do NOT use it. As far as I am concerned, there is only ONE reason for a label: to get something for the child and family – something that will be supportive and helpful and NEVER something that is punitive or embarrassing. The child and parents must be included in the decision.
The last rule is:
Language is important. The child may have a disability. The disability is NOT who the child is. (I hate the word disability, but that is another post.) Each child is an individual who has many parts to celebrate and some that may create a need for support, such as the teaching of coping mechanisms. For example, I have ADD. That is not who I am.
For I am a mother, a daughter, a wife, and a woman, who works in Early childhood and has ADD, who has published over 50 articles, who loves hiking and a whole bunch more.
So, the child may have autism, she isn’t autistic. She may have dyslexia, she isn’t dyslexic. I think attending to this language reminds us to see the individual as a whole. We all have challenges and gifts. If you want to know what to call the child, I recommend using the child’s name!
Implementation of the Rules
Now, my friend (mentioned in the introduction) and I were in elementary school before there were many rights for children who might need accommodations. I was also a demure little girl who quickly learned to hide her learning issues. On the other hand, he was an outspoken tall boy.
Was I lucky to avoid a label and perhaps a stigma and not get services? He did not avoid services. He got them, and they were done POORLY. Who fared better?
Back then. Getting services could be NASTY, NASTY, NASTY.
Children were not put in the least restrictive environment; rather they were pulled out of the classroom so everyone could see they were special. And, believe me, it was not a special that made them feel good about themselves or made them popular. Instead, the opposite frequently happened. They were ostracized by their peers and called awful names.
Both my friend and I learned to cope and have achieved much since then. However, it has cost both of us. He still sometimes feels people label him. I sometimes still hide who I am. We both learned this behavior from the way we were treated.
The Goal is to Support
Please, remember, if we are going to use labels, make sure they are being used in a way that will support, rather than to hinder, the child.
I have another friend, about 6 years younger than I, who was pulled out of class for stuttering. He learned to lie (which he still does today, sometimes, out of habit). Lying was a way to save face and look more typical so the others accepted him. Please remember that embarrassing a child by pulling him out of the class can be a big problem.
When I was an adjunct faculty, a few years ago, I did work with a student where a label was applied not as a stigma but to get services. The services supported the student beautifully. She was not identified or isolated from the group. It was up to her who knew about her accommodations. I was alerted privately to give her a choice of specific accommodations . I was never told the label. Why would I need it? It wasn’t who she was. It was for the special needs office to get her the right support. She was given the choice of accommodations and coping mechanisms to support her learning.
The accommodations provided her with methods she could use to show her knowledge. In addition, taught her skills that she may generalize to real world situations. For example, she was encouraged to take photos of anything on the smartboard or slow down and ask for extra time. A child with a disability IS INTELLIGENT. She needs a method to celebrate her intelligence and feel good about herself
When my friend, mentioned in the introduction, and I were growing up, having a disability was often full of shame and horrible treatment. Since 1975, due to the efforts of child advocates, laws have and continue to be passed to protect the child and their families. No longer is a child stigmatized and immediately taken out of the classroom. Rather, the child is put in an environment that is as unrestrictive as possible and remains part of the daily life of his classmates and teacher. Thus, that child has a chance to gain a sense of belonging and is not embarrassed. This benefits all, for everyone learns to accept one another.
Each child is an individual. A teacher’s job is to observe the child, see if he needs support, and determine if he meets criteria that will help gain that support. Will the child be able to compensate by himself? With a bit of help at home? Does he need accommodations? How might these accommodations be given in a kind, nonjudgmental and supportive manner? The goal is for the child to walk out of school feeling like a success, not walk out feeling like a horrible label with few friends.