By Donna Shea
In my work at the center, or out on the road giving a workshop, I will frequently encounter a parent who is holding back or reticent about seeking out evaluations for his or her struggling child for fear of that child being labeled.
What I try to help this parent understand is that his or her child is already being labeled, particularly if the struggle is of a behavioral nature. He or she has become the scary kid, or the mean kid, the kid who won’t share, or the kid who cries or has meltdowns all the time. The kid that no one wants to play with. And sadly, this happens as young as preschool age. To his or her teacher, he or she can become the frustrating kid, the annoying kid or the kid who’s parents are too lenient or don’t get it. See, we as parents of struggling kids may also end up wearing negative labels too.
And then, even more sadly, these kids begin to label themselves. “I’m bad” or “I’m stupid” or “I can’t do anything right.” If a child feels like this about his or herself long enough, the track that child may go down is one that leads to depression, despair and maybe even becomes self-fulfilling. If I’m “bad,” I might as well make bad choices.
An evaluation is not the end all and be all solution, but it can be the first sizable step in putting the correct labels on what a child may be struggling with, not the child as a person. We begin to see the same child as having difficulty with self-modulation, managing strong feelings, impulse control, anxiety, executive function challenges and more. The right labels and effective supports can set a child on a much better path.
I do empathize with parents that in order to get the right help at school, the labels become necessary to access that help through an IEP (individualized education plan). Unfortunately, that is the best way we have right now to get help in schools until something changes. The other thing to remember is that a label is just that and does not have to follow a child beyond the length of time it is needed. It is simply a description of what is in this particular kid’s “jar” at this particular moment in time.