Stop it With The Labels!

We need to be a little bit careful with our labelling and I’m not talking about avoiding labelling problems that exist, I’m talking about how, when a label has been applied it’s very easy to start fulfilling that role unconsciously. I’m talking about both you as a parent or professional and a child who has been given a label so I’m going to give you an example of when this has happened and we’re going to have a look at what we need to do about it

I’m going to tell you a story, once upon a time, I noticed that my hearing was not so good on one side, I don’t even remember which side it was now, but let’s say it was my right side. On my right side, I noticed that I was not hearing as well as I should do, and I went to visit my doctor. My doctor sent me for a hearing test. When I got to the hospital and we did the hearing test one side was fine and the other side I wasn’t hearing very well, I could hear high pitch sounds which you really shouldn’t be able to hear unless you are a superhero!

The audiologist said that they wanted to send me for a brain scan and very quickly I started to panic and wondered why I needed a brain scan. I inquired and they said, “well, sometimes these kinds of phenomena can happen because there is something that is pushing on the ear canal that is causing the sound to distort”. I said, “when we say something is pushing on the ear canal, what kind of thing are you talking about?”. They mention that it could be a brain tumour and I became very worried. In the following days of waiting for scans, the little worry in the back of my head started to affect my eating, and sleeping and I started to get headaches. I was at the point of nearly diagnosing myself with a brain tumour.

I went for the MRI scan; I got the results back and I went back to see the Audiologist. Luckily, they had found nothing but my brain in there! I went home that day and ate and slept like a baby. Here’s the moral of the story – make sure that if we’ve got a label present, we don’t all just start looking out for the signs and symptoms of that label. If we start looking for the signs of that label, we end up seeing things that are not actually correct. Like my story, I fell for it and had nearly truly believed I was ill and even felt ill.

It’s important to understand that sometimes young people are going to be given labels about their abilities, their disabilities and they’re going to be given labels about their needs and all of these different things can show up for them in the work that we are doing and it’s super important that we still consider them as a whole, complete, perfect, young person and that those labels are things that assist us in helping them when they need help but not to help us identify further failings, challenges or difficulties that we’d never seen before. We don’t need to go looking for trouble!

Sometimes our desire for certainty is so strong that being able to go “there’s another symptom of that label, I’ve just seen something else” helps us to make the point seem more solid and more certain but it’s not actually helpful. It’s not necessarily doing that young person any favours and it’s quite possibly a fluke or a one-off. If we create environments that help support that young person through the bits that they find challenging then we can really start to shrink the potency of the label that they’ve been given. If you know a young person who has recently been diagnosed with “a something” or given a label of some kind a useful thing to do is to focus on all of the things that you can fix, all of the workarounds that you can put in place and everything that you can possibly do to help them function, feel and behave as a normal everyday individual so that that label doesn’t become an identity for them.

Think about all the ways in which you can change their circumstances, their schooling, their interactions, their routines or all of the things that you might need to consider to make their life liveable to the fullest without that label getting in the way.


By Gemma Bailey


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