I like a lot of parents, did worry about a label being attached to my child. One friend who has been taking to her blog recently sharing struggles with her son is having him tested soon and expressed that same fear. And not too long ago we were introduced to a political “No Labels” movement which made me smile with it’s slogan “Not left, not right, forward.” And got me thinking about labels.
Autism is a diagnosis first and foremost. It is not a disease therefore I reject saying, “My daughter has autism” as “has,” semantically, can lead to the misconception that she has an illness. She’s not sick, she doesn’t need to be cured. I choose to say,” my daughter is autistic” because it better defines autism in her life.
Is “autistic” a label? Yes it is. So why am I choosing to “label” my child. Well, here’s the thing, we all label our children. Whether we think about it or not. When we fill out any kind of form for a doctor’s office, school, etc we are typically asked what race our child is and we put that label: “white/caucasian,” “black,” “Hispanic (non-white),” etc or we put “other” and we fill in a blank. If it asks “religion” we fill in “Roman Catholic,” “Baptist,” “Buddhist,” “Atheist,” and on down the line.
And then we use these terms to label our children, “artistic,” “talkative,” “athletic,” and “eloquent” and the list goes on. But here is where the parent becomes defensive and says, “no, I’m not labeling my daughter because I call her ‘artistic,’ I’m just describing her. She draws well, she paints; Her teacher says she has real potential!” I’m not labeling Shelby either, I’m describing her. Her autistic quirks colors how she uses her senses in this world. How she solves problems. How she handles situations socially. How she learns.
I am no more defining my child than you are yours. But coming to this point of recognition wasn’t overnight and was not always easy. And I encounter any number of parents who are angered by my stance. That’s their right. I choose to accept that this is not just a diagnosis when it is applied to my child. It describes to people that her world is challenging in ways we cannot even imagine. It tells people that I know my daughter is not broken or diseased. She’s just different. Heck, she’s special. And I have come to understand and accept that even if others do not.