Labels Given to Children


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Sometimes when a parent, who is having difficulty with a child, is finally told that their child can be classified as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Autistic, Developmentally Delayed, Emotionally Impaired, Childhood Schizophrenic, or some other condition the parent feels that their problem is solved. One can sense a feeling of relief on their part. There is an odd sort of glow surrounding these parents. It is a glow of relief now that the problem, that only they were experiencing, has a name. The problem can be labeled and they are no longer alone.

This is only a brief reprieve. It does not take long for the parent to realize that a label does not change the problem they are experiencing with their child. Labels never do. The child's behavior, with all the challenges associated with it, is still there. At this stage, some parents experience a period of depression. It is as if the long battle to find out what the problem was is over. It was this battle that kept them going and now they must come to grips with the reality of living with the problem that has now been so nicely labeled. The necessary sacrifices that must now be made to cope with and help their child become a reality. The fact that no "magic solution" exists must be faced and dealt with.

Another hurdle that a parent must overcome is the nagging idea that the child's problem was somehow brought on by something the parent did or did not do. If the parent feels some of the responsibility for the condition they may either deny this fact or avoid facing this issue or the parent may try to "make up" for the role they played in the etiology of the condition. Both one of these responses is self defeating and does nothing to help the child or the parent cope with the problem faced by the child. When the parent realizes this then the stage is set for coping with and living with the child's problem.

The next stage is the lonely yet challenging stage when the parent absorbs all the information they can get their hands on about the child's condition. Some parents become so intense and focused in this stage that they develop an expertise on their child's condition. The parent may become so knowledgeable that they teach the "professionals." If you think about it for a minute you can see how this could happen. The parent not only has the "book learning," they also have the practical experience of living 24 hours a day with the child that no "professional" can ever experience.

Armed with skills and knowledge, the determined parent will graduate to the next stage. At this stage the parent develops a sense of mission and intensiveness that seems to have a life of its own. They will join or create support groups. They will come to an understanding of the important role thy must play as their child grows and learns to cope with the condition they face. They will become an advocate for their child and other children with a similar condition. They will not fight their child's battles, but they will not let the "system" or individuals in the system, who does not want to be inconvenienced with the child's handicap, "get in the way" of their child's growth.

The parent who reaches this stage has forgotten what their child's label was. But they understand the problem their child has. They also have faith in their child and feel that the problems their child faces are "overcome able" or that their child can live a happy and meaningful life. Don't try to tell this parent to "give up" on their kid. Even when there are no answers to problems the child faces, this parent will discover or invent answers. The "professional" will be seen by this parent as a "support/teacher" or as a "road block." Heaven help the expert who decides to pontificate about the condition the child has. This parent will not tolerate words. Action and ideas are what this parent wants and demands. Such a parent is fun to be around. They have taken a problem and made it a challenge. They have tapped into some extra source of energy that has helped them transform a "bad situation" into a "crusade of love."

When the parent has finally "put it together" progress can occur. Progress can occur when the parent stops feeling sorry for themselves because they have a "labeled" child. Progress can occur when the parent stops being angry with or feeling sorry for their child. Progress can occur when the parent decides that the label is not important, but that the child is important. When the parent reaches this stage they can refocus, seek support, get help, and obtain the information they need. Thus armed, the parent can get on with the task of enjoying life and their child.

A label doesn't mean much. It may be a nice classification for those who like to classify. It may be quick way of giving others a general idea about the problem your child faces. It may be a temporary comfort to a frustrated parent. But a label cannot create the environment that your child needs to become all they can be. Only a PARENT can do that.