When our oldest son was growing up and beginning to read, he saw words backwards ‒ Gniws, repap, llaw. He also read from right to left ‒ syot ruoy pu kciP. He actually got quite good at it, but our world doesn’t work that way so we sent him to a summer school. There, over time, he learned how to read properly. I’ve never felt sure that we did him a service. He probably would have been fine had we left him alone. Still, he has done well in life. He went to high school where he worked on his school’s newspaper, graduated from college, married, and started his own business. His life has been full and productive.

Today he would be labeled dyslexic. “Dyslexia is a specific reading disability due to a defect in the brain’s processing of graphic symbols.” Labeling someone who has been diagnosed with dyslexia takes on a whole different meaning. Dyslexia has come to be interpreted as a child with learning disabilities and often with behavioral problems as well. It is frequently used as an excuse for poor performance. In addition, it may imply sickness or words like ignorant, both of which are false.

I know several children who have reading problems. They have acquired the label ‒ dyslexia ‒ with its implied stigma. It has caused them social and emotional pain and follows them everywhere, even to college. One of them had beautiful, long, blond hair. One day, she heard another label ‒ dumb blond. She already had her own label ‒ dyslexia ‒ to deal with. She certainly didn’t want or need another ‒ dumb blond. Thus, she colored her beautiful, long, blond hair dark brown — and so it remains, even today.

In my view, labeling someone as autistic falls under the category of insensitive and unproductive.  If autism is a disease, like tuberculosis, then it should be called a disease. The label ‒ autistic ‒ immediately brings to mind difficult, incorrigible, crazy, hard to handle. I have a friend who is brilliant and accomplished, yet when he does something the least bit strange, people shake their heads and call him autistic.

Some disabilities are more severe than others but rather than handicap our children with labels, why can’t we use better teaching techniques for learning problems. Labeling someone ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is unproductive. It sounds like an excuse. Those kids aren’t sick. They simply learn in a different way and at a different rate.

Labeling ourselves by sexual orientation makes no sense. People are humans with all the resulting foibles and idiosyncrasies. What’s important is to find a comfortable level of who we are. Consider ‒ right handed or left, nearsighted or far, short or tall, black or white, only a few of the things persons can’t control.

Phillip Pullman said, People are too complicated to have simple labels.

I agree.

Label packages. Not People.

For many months, Bob Chrisman has written passionate and informative comments to my blog. It is with deep sadness that I report that Bob had a massive stroke and passed away this week. We will miss his humor, intelligence, and zeal. Rest In Peace, dear friend.

3 Responses to LABELS

  • Lynn Barnett says:

    In the world of mental health which encompasses psychiatry, psychology, and clinical social work, diagnoses drives the treatment. When a child cannot focus, has poor impulse control, cannot sit still in his classroom and is jumping off the roof at home, the psychiatrist will give him the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, Hyperactive (or inattentive) Type. He can then prescribe medication that would be effective in helping his brain focus better, help him to control his behavior better and get into trouble less. Long story short, the label drives the treatment. Without the appropriate diagnosis (label), clinicians cannot treat the individual. If this child were labeled as being incorrigible, he would continue to get into trouble and be unable to change his behaviors, learn to control his energy levels, and would eventually fall through the cracks.

    I used to work with a chronically mentally ill population and I learned very quickly that the wrong diagnosis or label could have serious consequences. We don’t like to label people as being “crazy” but without the correct diagnosis, having a good understanding of the whole person, we can’t help them, either with medication or with the appropriate therapies. This is also true for medical diagnosis, such as diabetes. Without the correct label, the doctor or therapist does not know how to treat the individual. There are well researched treatments for disabilities such as dyslexia, diabetes, central auditory processing disorder, sensory integration disorder, etc (and I could go on for pages). In all of these cases, the label drives the treatment.

    Of course, as homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness, it does not require treatment and should not be considered a label. It will finally be a great day when we don’t need to talk about same sex marriage, people do not need to “come out” and when being gay is just another way of being. Just saying.

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