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
“A LABEL CHANGED OUR LIFE”
“My ‘Brat’ had Autism”
When 3-year-old Courtney Bourque of Loreauville, LA, has one of her meltdowns, Lacey Bourque knows how to handle the disapproving stares: She offers a card.
The card directs them to www.meetcourtney.org, where they can learn more about her, and autism, which now affects one in 88 children.
Bourque wasn't always this open with Courtney's illness. She and her husband, Bart, argued at first about whether it was possible to know for sure what was up with her. “But I never doubted the diagnosis,” says Bourque. “I just wanted her to get help. Fast.”
Although the diagnosis was crushing, Bourque says it was also a huge help. “We came up with ways to make her life easier,” she says. “She's calmer now, as we know what she needs.” And the insurance company approved her therapy.
“It Opened His Eyes to the World Around Him”
Cooper Windsor's kindergarten teacher had been the first to suggest he might have ADHD. The day he took his first dose of Ritalin, he ran over to her after discovering his classroom's Home Life Zone. “This is fun! When did you put these toys here?'” Upon hearing this, his mom, Amy Windsor, sobbed in relief. The toy zone had been there all along, but before he began the medication for ADHD, Cooper wasn't focused enough to notice them. “We knew it was working,” Windsor recalls.
“I finally knew why life was so chaotic. And it wasn't my fault.”
Cooper's parents disagreed at first about the label and medication. His dad worried the label would be a license to coast—that he'd get used to special treatment. But mostly, it provides a frame of reference. For instance, now they know Cooper can't sit still all the time, so they don't hound him. “We set goals he's capable of meeting,” says Windsor.
Many parents point to the lens that finally swayed them one way or the other: their child's self-esteem. “I understand when parents say they don't want to put a ‘ceiling’ on their child's potential by labeling them. But older kids tell me ‘I always knew I was different. Now I know why,’” says Chong. A diagnosis can put a new structure in place that can make all the difference. “Self-esteem is the critical part of good mental health,” says Dr. Brown. Lauro, the mom who stressed over the assessments, saw self-image as the missing piece in Aiden's puzzle. “Post-diagnosis, he has more confidence,” she says. “He's not as hesitant to join in. He'd gotten to an age where it was sink or swim, and without the label…I think it could've been sink.”