Special Needs Children: Should I Label My Kid?
For some, it's a godsend. For others, it's a stigmatizing professional opinion—and sometimes even a misdiagnosis. Read about kids who were labeled with a disorder, and what it meant, for better and for worse. Plus, read one mom's moving letter to her special needs son’s school principal
Oliver's teachers and a developmental pediatrician (a specialist in developmental disorders) started tossing around names for his difficulties. He could have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But then again, he also had difficulty communicating clearly. Maybe he had an auditory or sensory processing disorder?
Madeline Winslow* and her husband, Kevin*, who live in Portland, OR, pushed back. “We weren't about to slap an acronym on a kid that young,” she says. “We worried that could stigmatize him.”
Now, four years and many evaluations later, the Winslows feel just the opposite. Oliver, now 8, appears to have Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. They're willing to have it noted on Oliver's medical and school records. It's not easy, of course. They alternate between heartbreak and gratitude that they finally know what's going on. “For him to get help, like behavioral therapy and special education classes, he has to have an official label. We can't just keep saying ‘he's a little quirky.’ It's more than that, and we're coming to terms with it.”
For parents like the Winslows, the question of whether or not to label young kids with Asperger's, ADHD, or bipolar or other disorders has become hotly—and often tearfully—debated. One reason: The sheer number of kids we're talking about. Autism diagnoses, for instance, have increased 78 percent in the past decade. According to Medco Health Solutions, Inc., the biggest U.S. pharmacy-benefit manager, use of psychiatric medications in U.S. children has increased 15 percent since 2001.
* Names have been changed.
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