Labels and Categories: Is Your Child “Special Needs”?

It’s a drama that gets played out over and over again in every city in the country, sometime between pre-school and 2nd grade. A child’s teachers are concerned that the child isn’t performing up to the standard, and they ask the parents to speak to the child’s doctor. The parents reluctantly bring the subject up at the doctor’s office and the doctor talks directly to the teacher. Suddenly, the acronyms start to flow: does the child have ADHD? How about CAPD? Maybe it’s DDS-NOS?… and the only thing the parents are thinking is “Our child is not a label.”

Not only is that thought perfectly natural, it’s absolutely correct. No child is a label, and in fact assigning a label to your child is going to affect the way their life progresses for a big piece of their foreseeable future. The important part for any parent to remember as they learn that their child may not be entirely typical is that the label can — and in many cases is — a positive change for a child that is genuinely having troubles.

One Honest Story

A man named Michael was kind enough to share his story about his struggle with a child he had who needed help:

“My name is Michael and I spent a year insisting that my son didn’t have ADHD. I didn’t believe that ADHD was even real — we’ve heard so many stories about how it’s over-diagnosed, and so many kids are on Adderall and Ritalin or whatever — so how could my kid actually have it? I told his teachers that he was just a boy, just a bit rambunctious, and they could deal with it.”

“Then, one day six months through the school year, his teacher called us in for a meeting, and she basically had a breakdown in front of us. Our son already had an IEP because he had speech delays, and they had quietly used that IEP to get our son seven people helping him through every school day. He had a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, three assistants, and his normal teacher… and he was still completely unable to get through most days.”

“We were blindsided, but it’s because we didn’t want to deal with the fact that our son might have problems beyond his speech delays (which he easily overcame by kindergarten). So we started research. My mother-in-law is a nutritionist, and she gave us a vast amount of advice about ADHD and food. We tried dozens of diets, several different levels of physical intervention… at one point, I was waking up two hours before school so we could stick a full-sized dictionary in this four-year-old’s backpack and have him jog a mile with me before he got on the school bus. Nothing. By the time he got to school, he was uncontrollable again like he was never exhausted.”

“Finally, two years after we first heard the diagnosis, we submitted to a prescription. It took another few months to find the right medicine at the right level… and literally three months later, they took our now-1st-grader out of special education and put him in a real class with children who weren’t problematic. He loves school now, and he’s testing two grade levels higher in math and reading than his peers.”

“In the end, having our child labeled — openly acknowledged by everyone involved as someone who needed help, but got by quite well once he had it — was the single best thing that ever happened to him. I’ll never regret it.”