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BellaOnline's Special Education Editor

Labelling Children with Special Needs

Despite their labelling, children with special needs are truly amazing individuals. All too often it’s easy to never see the child and instead see all the difficulties that raising or teaching that child may bring. We sometimes tend to see a collection of problems rather than an amazing burst of unique human potential.

So the question is – Should we be labelling children who are different and require special education?

There are many arguments for and against the use of labelling, especially in cases of developmental disorders and emotional difficulties.

Let’s look at some of the arguments for and against.

Those in favour of using a label, both parents and educators, may say that without one:

• Children are not given the support they require and that they can fall through the cracks.

• It is easier to access services within education, health and social services

• With the correct label it is much easier to explain to others what is going on for the child, therefore there will be more understanding and wider acceptance of the child

• The child’s individual needs can be met in relation to the differences/difficulties they have.

• The child will be labelled in some other way. For example a child with ADHD or autism may be labelled as being badly behaved and treated accordingly.

Those against labelling may say that having one:

• The child is labelled for life, which can in turn, affect them as they grow into adulthood.

• People will only see the label and not the child as a whole person

• The child’s self-esteem may be affected as a result of being labelled and they may grow up resenting the label and ultimately themselves.

• Does not always guarantee services or support.

They might also argue that there is a tendency to overuse labels and not get to the root of what the actual difficulty is for the child on an individual basis.

However, perhaps the problem is not what we label a child but what meaning and energy we give to the label.

If we begin to see a child who is labelled as different - nothing more, just different - then maybe we can as a society begin to celebrate difference and diversity. Maybe we can begin to see the potential in that child and not just the (perceived) problems.

Maybe it’s just about changing perceptions, without actually changing the label.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Vicki McCarthy. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Vicki McCarthy. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Celestine A. Jones for details.

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