Limiting With Labels

July 26, 2014 Published by

fun4all twitterWith our #Fun4all twitter campaign getting off the ground, I’ve been contemplating the whole area of additional needs: behavioural issues, physical disabilities and mental health diagnoses.

As with many sensitive areas, it is very easy to cause offence and I’d like to start out by saying that none is intended here. Different terms are preferred by different people, but I hope that as you read this, you’ll see past any semantic faux pas and start a real discussion on the pros and cons of labelling people, especially children, according to the particular challenges they face.

Whilst there are real, practical, economic and medical reasons for labelling conditions, there are also dangers: do diagnoses become self-fulfilling prophesies and does society’s reaction to a label in itself become limiting and restrictive for the person being labelled?

dyslexia, reading, special educational needs

Disability and special educational needs are arbitrary labels, applied inconsistently and whereas there are conditions (usually physical) that are universally acknowledged as deficits, there are an awful lot of conditions that come with enhanced ability in other areas. Rather than focusing on a blind person’s inability to see, we should be celebrating their enhanced ability to hear and feel.  This is even more relevant when looking at neurological/psychological diagnoses.  Most skills/characteristics are on a sliding scale – e.g. introvert – extrovert but we see fit to label at either end of these scales as problematic (autism/Asperger’s diagnoses are often given out to children who are painfully shy, and attachment disorder is assigned to children who are ‘overly’ outgoing and friendly with everyone).  In cases of extreme personalities, most of the time we focus on the negative rather than the positive.

Society’s reaction is also arbitrary, why is an irrational fear of spiders any less of a ‘personality disorder’ than other anxiety disorders, eg. OCD, yet it doesn’t come with any of the stigma that’s attached to OCD or depression.

Whilst we continue to focus on what children can’t do, we are denying them the opportunities to succeed at what they can do. From an economic perspective surely it makes sense to encourage development of skills that are transferable and useful in adult life and help children develop coping mechanisms to overcome obstacles that they face. If we structure society in as inclusive a way as possible and bring back the ‘can do’ attitude that seems to be lacking, everyone will benefit.

I would like to move away from labelling at all but the basic level required for accurate medication prescriptions and move towards a more positive view of people. Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all just ‘fairly good’ at most things. Where would children’s inspiration come from to excel at anything and we need extremes, otherwise we’d never have the art, science medical or social progress that we enjoy. Children with special needs are over labelled Let’s start celebrating everyone’s individuality and accept that you can’t have everything in any one person, so striving for some unattainable idea of perfection is just folly. Instead, let’s encourage everyone to be the best version of themselves that they can be and enjoy the benefits that this will bring to all.


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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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