Read the Label

Disclaimer: This post is intended to be thought-provoking, not judgemental. Please be polite and courteous in sharing your thoughts. 

labels-vI recently read a report which claimed a new disorder (DMDD) had been discovered in children. This disorder causes kids to throw tantrums and experience dramatic changes in their mood.

It seems, more and more, doctors and psychologists are seeking to put a label on everyone. If you are extremely organized, you are OCD. If you are have too much energy, you have ADHD. If you can’t focus, you are ADD. Why is it we feel the need to label every characteristic deemed “out of the ordinary”?

Now, am I saying no disorders exist? Absolutely not! I am not a certified doctor and, honestly, couldn’t diagnose anyone and wouldn’t try. What I am saying, is that we need to be very careful about labeling our children.

Why do we feel the need to stick everyone in a neat, little box? Some of us are going to be more emotional, some more active, some less focused, and some more organized. These are not problems which need to be diagnosed and dealt with, but characteristics unique to ourselves that we should work with.

On the flip side; why do we feel the need to excuse bad behavior as a disorder? When a child throws a temper tantrum, wouldn’t discipline be the order of the day? Instead of harboring that bad behavior and making excuses for it, we should be dealing with the root of the problem and nipping it in the bud.

Again; please understand me. I am not saying that all children are using a disorder as an excuse or that all disorders should be done away with. I simply think we need to be extremely careful about slapping a label on a child (or an adult for that matter).

Let us not define a person by a medical diagnosis and fail to see the person within. A label does not a person make.

Please, share your thoughts….

23 thoughts on “Read the Label

  1. Your blog strikes a chord with me! Part of my job is to tutor children in maths. I meet many parents who show me Ed Psych reports. Frequently, if their child is below the 50th percentile in an area (working memory, for example) then they are perceived to have some kind of learning difficulty. The most important thing is this is not communicated to the child: once a child labels themselves, they have a get-out clause for everything. Great blog, btw.


  2. I totally agree. There are too many labels out their. The worst part, in my opinion, is when parent opt for the solution of drugs to cure there child of such behaviors. I know that some children really do fall whithin these medical parameters, but would early intervention and intense cognitive therapy and conditioning be a better solution than drugs. I think labels do nothing but limit the expectations of people about what the child can accomplish, and that is the saddest part.


  3. I think the hardest thing we as parents have to teach our children is how to handle anger or anxiety. I don’t think a label has to be a bad thing if it is used to understand and teach the child about themselves, not as a cop out for lowering expectations. As someone who struggled with ADD in school when ADHD was known but ADD was not, I can tell you i would have preferred the label. That would have been better than being told ” You have the intelligence, but just don’t apply yourself.” Perhaps if it had been known and I had been given tools to help me I would have had better more confident school years. It helps me to understand myself as an adult and embrace all of myself and for that i am grateful. I met a woman in her late 50’s and recognized that she had ADD and when I suggested it, I lifted years of pain and now we laugh about our ADD moments and our husband’s reactions.


  4. When we label someone, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We become what we think we are.

    With that being said, I do feel that if you know you have a problem, it helps you understand yourself. My son has trouble staying on task and would probably be labeled ADD if we sought out a diagnosis. I read up on the topic and we worked on focusing his attention and he is doing great. He tends to overcompensate by hyper focusing on one thing at a time. That’s his way of coping and he doesn’t look at himself as someone with a problem.

    Being able to work with your child through whatever learning style or problem they have is a real advantage to homeschooling.


  5. You’re correct. Labeling of children by unqualified school employees (teachers, nurses, and psychologists) has been a control technique for more than 30 years. Only an M.D. is legally allowed to diagnose, but some busy physicians will accept the school’s label without question, rather than investigate thoroughly. See Ann Landell’s Shifting Roles and Charlotte Iserbyt’s The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America for more info about this insidious technique. I briefly worked as an editor for a publisher that produces psychological and IQ tests for schools. I was shocked by their slanted questionnaires that “diagnose” kids through biased opinion and hearsay on a Likert scale. Since I came from a medical lab, where measurable proof of illness from at least two unbiased tests was required for corroboration, I didn’t fit in with the pseudoscientists there. Bottom line: If your child’s overworked teacher says, “He has some kind of syndrome,” pay for a private evaluation by a qualified pediatrician. Better still, just homeschool your kids. The alleged syndrome will most likely magically disappear.


  6. A label can be very helpful in some ways, but only if it creates a desire in the affected individual and those around him (her) to find new, creative ways to bring about an effect closer to the desired outcome My nephew was labeled Asperger’s. It reminded us all to be patient and not so quick to get exasperated with him. It also forced us to look up the deficiencies and the techniques used to help him “fit in” better socially–or to help him understand others better and how he is perceived. It helped us stop–and try to see the world through what we know about Asperger’s. It made us pay attention to nutrition, as it may apply to Asperger’s. It doesn’t change that his behaviors are often unacceptable, but it makes us try to come up with ways that may allow him to see that his behaviors and words are unacceptable. Because one day, he has to be out there doing this all on his own. So if a label made the family stop and regroup–I’m glad we got it. However, it’s no excuse for saying, “Well that’s just the way it is…”


  7. As several have pointed out, there are definitely some who do need medical (whether it be psychological or pharmaceutical) attention, but I often wonder how much of these “new” diagnoses are due simply to overcrowded classrooms? As school budgets get slashed and schools have to make due with more students and fewer teachers and classrooms, something’s gotta give. One teacher can’t handle a classroom full of 40 unruly 8 year olds, especially if they’re behaving like 8 year olds. So we medicate. The push to assessment and the over-emphasis of high-stakes standardized testing has also sacrificed sports, arts, music, and in some schools they’ve even cut recess. Where are kids’ energies supposed to go?

    I saw a documentary a while back (I might even have a copy of it somewhere) on PBS called “Raising Cain” (I think) about how we’re raising our boys today. One teacher was interviewed regarding one particularly hyper student. He recognized that this student just had too much energy and decided to try a work-around, rather than ask the parents to medicate. So when he noticed the student getting too restless, he “assigned” him laps around the building — using the stairs and both floors. He’d give him a hall pass and send him out for 5-10 minutes. He found this went a LONG way to getting the kid to release pent-up energy and once back in the classroom, he was good for a few more hours. No medication, no hassles, better grades. But how many teachers can really do that? How many principles are willing to let teachers do that? At what point do we have a ton of kids running around the school during class?

    It’s a complex issue. I agree that labels, especially those deemed negative, go a long way to harming kids. As a college professor, I see many of the effects such labels have had on students. On the other hand, I’ve also seen students who SHOULD be getting help from the Disabilities Office NOT asking for help because they don’t like the stigma — because of the negative implications. So it works both ways.

    I was fortunate this weekend to engage with one student who had shared at the beginning of the term that he has some social anxiety issues and might need some accommodations. So far, he’s been one of my most engaged students, with no real evidence of having problems. He speaks up, he volunteers, etc. After class he asked for clarification on an assignment and while we were talking, he walked over to the board and started diagramming our conversation. It was amazing! Having been diagnosed AND having been taught coping strategies, he recognized his own learning style and how to compensate when teachers didn’t use that (nowadays with technology, I and most colleagues use power points, which are really linear and don’t do a good job showing connections in a way that some visual learners need). Watching him tease out the important information, make connections with previous ideas discussed in class, and what the goals of the assignment are was so fascinating. Here is a young man who was “labeled,” but rather than being told that made him “less than,” he was told it merely made him different, and here’s how you can manage and translate. When I complimented him on his engagement and my surprise with it, given his admission, he said he’s been working on it and has found ways to deal, but he lets his teachers know “just in case,” since when things get particularly stressful is when his issues arise.

    Anyway, I think I’ve veered off topic a bit (a lot?). lol But an interesting and thought-provoking post!


  8. I am very anti-labeling. Like you said, that puts the child in a neat little box, when really, we need to teach them how to think OUTSIDE of that box! If we must label, then we should use that to fine tune the discipline and learning process for that child rather than allow the label to be an excuse for them to misbehave or not to succeed in their endeavors.


  9. This is a good point. I have a 6 year old son who has a ton of energy, has a very quick temper and has a very hard time concentrating. I have had teachers and other people ask me if I have had him tested for ADD/ADHD. My answer has been no because even if he was diagnosed with either I would want him on any medicines for it. I do not know if he has it not but I read up on what I can and learn ways to teach him and correct him. (This is just how we handle our sweet energetic son– I know others do different things 😉 )


  10. You know, I always belived the purpose of a label isn’t to make an excuse. The purpose is identifying the best strategy to deal with something. For example, a child with OCD (and I don’t mean really organized, I mean can’t step on cracks and washes their hands three times after every trip to the bathroom), you learn their quirks. You know they’ll likely throw a fit because they can’t wash their hands properly after using a portable bathroom. In that case, you know to look for a solution. An ADHD child may have a lot of problems with settling down for school work, so maybe planning more breaks and active learning opportunities is a better strategy. The idea is to use the diagnosis to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to find ways to overcome challenges caused by those weaknesses. A diagnosis should never be an excuse. It should just be one more tool in trying to overcome the challenges a child faces in learning and interacting with others.


  11. The problem with labels is not that it identifies a person’s particular characteristics. The problem with labels is that those characteristics are viewed as a defect, rather than as something simply unique to the individual. Having a lot of energy, for example, isn’t a defect. What’s interesting is that people who are unwilling to engage in a strenuous sport are not labeled “Over-Attentive Disorder”, or “Athletic-Deficit Disorder” because they lack the energy or motivation to do so.

    I’m not, of course, suggesting that some people do not have legitimate issues, but only observing that not all characteristics represent an “issue” that requires medical or psychiatric attention. With respect to a student who struggles because he has a non-traditional learning style, that’s not really the fault of the student. That’s the fault of an education system which fails to treat students as individuals with different learning styles.


  12. I completely agree with you! In my experience as a tutor, labeling children can backfire in two ways: 1) the children (and sometimes the parents) will use it as an excuse forgive bad behavior, as you mentioned, and 2) some children will see it as a disability which will hold them back, and it will affect their self-esteem. Neither outcome is good. Unfortunately, schools keep labeling and coding kids because they get more money from the government for them (at least in Canada). It would be much healthier to just accept that often times these differences in learning style are just there because kids are individuals.


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