Labels are for Mabel

Labels are often deemed necessary.  Some would say they are needed in order to help promote shared understanding. I believe this is true to some degree, at least in theory.  The problem with labels, is that we often forget that the person behind the label is more than their label.  A lot more.  I think it’s human nature to label people.  We label people in both positive and negative ways….  You call a young boy a math whiz and suddenly we forget that he has numerous other strengths and talents.  How many times as a nurse have I heard someone say, “Can you go check on the head injury in room 2?” or some version of that where the person ceases to be a person and becomes their diagnosis.  “She’s the pretty one…”  Ugh.  We ALL do it.  Repeatedly.  Often with very good intentions.  (And less often, with nasty intention – think Trump for an unlimited list of examples).

Besides the obvious issue with pigeon-holing people by one aspect of their humanness, it also  can create less understanding than more.  Take any label you can think of and think about how that ‘label’ manifests in one person you know.  And then think of another person you know that might qualify for the same label.  How similar are those two humans as a whole?  NOT SIMILAR AT ALL, is my guess.  Take a complex label like cancer.  What that label means and how it manifests is completely unique to each person who has been diagnosed with cancer.   It sounds ridiculous when I type this, but what if we treated all people with cancer in exactly the same way?   Makes no sense.  While there may be similarities to how we treat individuals with cancer – we use chemotherapeutic medications often (although in unique doses and combinations and schedules), radiation, stem cell transplants, surgery – there is never one course of treatment and patient response that looks exactly like another course of treatment and response because each person having treatment is completely unique.  Again, this all seems so obvious.

Learning disabilities and learning styles are incredibly complex and completely unique.  Look up the definition of dyslexia and you will see a long list of possible ‘symptoms’, and if you read further you will see that what dyslexia looks like in one person may be very different from another person with the same label. Ditto for ADHD.  Or processing disorders.  Or autism. Speech delay. PDD.   <Ya ya, Chandra, we get it.  Labels are high level and don’t reflect the individual.  Move on.>

My point is that in my opinion, when it comes to learning, the labels are not relevant.  You may need them to help get support, and that is where the value is.  But when you start to look at what specific support your child will need, forget about the labels and look at the child. Where is the child at today? Which way does he or she learn best?  Does that change depending on the topic, time of day, or activity?  What strategies work best for your child. How does diet, or activity , or sleep, or routine impact his or her learning? How can your child achieve meaningful success?  Having a label doesn’t answer those questions, and sometimes results in not asking the question at all….  Have you ever heard, “Oh he has ADHD, he’ll never sit through this.” ?  I have.  It’s not about whether or not he will sit through an activity.  The question should be “How do we adapt this activity, our approach, his environment, etc. etc., so he can be successful?”

I have been thinking a lot about learning disabilities and learning styles lately for obvious reasons.  When I think about homeschooling Berrik, this is my philosophy:

I don’t worry about labels because they aren’t really relevant to what I am going to do. It’s not up to me or a label to pre-determine what Berrik can or cannot achieve.  On any given day, I just start where he is at and progress with him at his pace.  If he is not progressing on any topic or in any moment, I believe it is my responsibility to figure out how my child learns and adapt my approach.  Kids all progress at different rates.  They all learn in different ways.  And that can change from day to day, sometimes from minute to minute.  I’m here to help Berrik navigate his learning journey, not dictate it.  

And this is what I tell myself every day.  Navigate, don’t dictate.  I’m a dictator by nature.  Some  (or maybe many!!!) might label me ‘bossy’.  I have absolutely been called a ‘know it all’.  I’m terrible at meditation and yoga, but I have a mantra…  Navigate, don’t dictate.  Navigate, don’t dictate.  One more time.  NAVIGATE, don’t dictate.

As an aside, I’d like to get better at yoga and meditation. To meditate I’d have to stop talking, and I think many of you know that may be a bit of a stretch goal, so perhaps I’ll start with yoga…  (See what I did there?  Stretch goal…yoga…) <mic drop>


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