A Brief Look at Labels: Myths and Misconceptions

Recently I posted Labeling Children for Accommodations: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It spoke in general terms about three main issues: 1) the difference between how children with a disability are labeled now versus in the 1960s, 2) the only time you should ever use a label, and 3) the necessity of objectivity, privacy, and attention to the individual child and her family. As mentioned in the post, it all came about in response to a friend who is dyslexic (who I’ll refer to as Jeff), was treated poorly as a child in the 1960s, and found labels distasteful (to say the least).

In that post, I mentioned the sole purpose of a label was to obtain services. I forgot to mention the precursor, which would be the importance of the label to serve as diagnostic guidance for professionals who screen the child and have specific criteria. Unfortunately, nonprofessionals, inclusive of classroom teachers and parents, sometimes use these labels in a manner that may be problematic. As I stated in the last post – and I feel strongly about this – it is important it is to be careful and purposeful before ever labeling disabilities for children.

First, make sure you are labeling the disability, NOT the child. Because if the child is only seen as her label or there is too much generalization, it may be hurtful rather than helpful to the child. (This was true especially before1975 and PL 94-142.)

The intention is to provide services and help the children and their families. Labeling the child, instead of the disability, can lead to inappropriate treatment that sometimes has long-lasting negative effects on the child.

Today I am going to be much more specific and cover the myths associated with disabilities and how disconcerting and damaging they are for a young child.  Before I begin, I’d be remiss if I did not thank my dear friend and esteemed colleague, Holly Robbertz, for helping me with information regarding what is happening today.

What scares me the most are the myths and misconceptions that often go along with disabilities and that undermine the children and take away her individually. I have seen this happen to children suffering from a variety of disabilities (e.g. ADHD and autism). For this post, I’m going to use a child with dyslexia as an example.

 

MYTH #1: Negative attributes that some people link to the diagnosis

A child with dyslexia is stupid. This is totally FALSE. There is no correlation between dyslexia and intelligence. As Holly Robbertz noted, “The other very important point about dyslexia is that reading is a man-made invention. The neural networks establish more easily for some individuals than others in the left hemisphere. There is no correlation between the neural circuitry for reading and one’s intelligence….Typically, individuals with dyslexia demonstrate right hemisphere strengths such as being artistic, creative, and can see the big picture…often the profile of our successful entrepreneurs.”

 

Myth #2: The diagnosis becomes sexist

Only boys have dyslexia. Again, this is 100% FALSE.

Interestingly, my friend Jeff, who went to elementary school in the 1960s, said when his dyslexic group met, there were only boys!

I thought that more boys than girls (maybe 3:2) had dyslexia until I was writing this post. I decided to look this up and discovered that this belief is now seen as questionable. It is now known, however, that dyslexia is genetic in origin. But, whether boys are more likely to have dyslexia has not been determined.

Another surprise I learned from Holly was the prevalence of dyslexia. One out of every five people has dyslexia.

 

Myth #3: As long as a child’s disability is being treated in a commonly accepted manner, it will meet that child’s needs.

Again, I have seen treatments I feel are inappropriate, even today, with many diagnoses.

For Jeff, who was taught in the 60s, he experienced hurt and frustration due to being isolated, taught with mirrors, and punished in disgusting ways. Any treatment that involves humiliating or punishing the child for their disability is never appropriate.

Thankfully, some of his treatment would not happen today.

Even with good treatments, however, one always must consider the options and how one treatment might be more appropriate than another for a given child’s personality and circumstances.

The bottom line for me is that we need to remember children are individuals and there is NOT one way to teach. In addition, sometimes new trends do not work.

 

Conclusion

These myths are dangerous.

They cause people to have ableism and may cause folks with disabilities to not develop to the competent capable they have the potential to become. The child may even become bitter due to the unfairness given to them or develop harmful coping mechanisms.

So, let’s get informed, folks. EVERY CHILD deserves to shine. They may not be readers, but they may be creators. When I was in a delegation (a long time ago) to Reggio Emilia. Loris Malaguzzi summed this up beautifully for the creative child: We want children who may invent new music NOT children that can play the same old notes.

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