Thursday, October 11, 2012

Are You Glad Your Child has a Label?

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This week the TODAY show did a segment on whether or not labeling your child is helpful or detrimental.

Now in a perfect world I would absolutely not want my child labeled, but under our circumstances, yes, I’m very glad my child has a label, even if it’s a “working diagnosis”, it serves our purpose.

First, without the label we would still be without medication. Being that medication has been the single most important step in helping our son, I don’t for a minute want to go back to those years where he was falling apart everyday. If anything, I wish we had the label sooner and could’ve avoided all the pain and hardship our son has experienced such as the loss of friendships, the destruction of his self-esteem, the physical pain of his symptoms and the loss of what was suppose to be his childhood. Not to mention the suffering his family has experienced.

Second, without the label we would still be in pointless therapy sessions that promise that all of our problems would be solved if we established yet another sticker program, or in the other extreme, we would be facing the false belief that our child was just a bad seed and would end up in prison and there was nothing we could do about it.

Third, without the label we would be without services, such as our 504 plan, which has been the most valuable tool we’ve had to help our son thrive in school. It has given us the Study Skills class that has been key to our son’s middle school success and it has given us important accommodations that allow our son to avoid triggers and remove barriers needed to learn.

And last, the label has brought us understanding and compassion. Having a mental illness is hard enough, but the judgements of others makes it more difficult. With the social circles that we feel safe, being able to share our son’s “label” has given our family acceptance, patience, and love.

Now, some would argue that having a label means that my husband and I are off the hook for our parenting, but I would argue that this isn’t the case. If anything, it’s proven to be tougher. Now that we have a label, we know that we didn’t create our son’s symptoms with bad parenting—I agree that this feels reassuring—but we still face judgements from the outside world. Our son doesn’t wear his “label” on his t-shirt, so when we’re in public, we still get the negative judgments of bystanders who are witnessing a meltdown. Plus, with our son’s label, we have to parent in a whole new way and depending upon what doctor you’re talking to, it may be different approaches. Then unlike your typical parent, we meet weekly with therapists who are evaluating our parenting skills, letting us know where we’ve messed up. Believe me, there is no getting off the hook for us, if anything, we’ve needed to step up our game!

As for the stigma associated with labels, yep that pretty much sucks, so as a parent we’re careful with who we share the label with, while at the same time trying to instill in our son that he has nothing to be ashamed of. If he chooses to go public someday, we’ll be the first behind him. In the meantime, I hope to change the world around us—one person at a time—so that the fear of a label’s stigma is never the reason someone avoids the treatment they need.

So I was curious, how would you answer the question that the TODAY show asked? Has your child’s label been helpful or detrimental?


  1. I believe that GB's labels are necessary to reach our primary goal, which is to enable GB to self monitor and advocate for herself. There are people who stigmatize her because of the labels, but she will always have to deal with those sort of people. I find it is much like teaching her to advocate for herself with people who are intolerant of her brown skin.

  2. I agree with the mum above. In Australia no label no help. But that label is purely for the sake of paper work & treatment, it doesn't have to define your child's life. Its not who your child is.

  3. I think a label is just a way of getting a more thorough treatment plan. It is not good or bad...just a word used to inform doctors and patients about their issues. I felt relief to know my diagnosis because then I understood why I was being prescribed certain medications and what behaviors of mine were more to do with my illness rather than my core self.