I can’t wait to label my child.
I realize what an inflammatory statement that is, but it is categorically, without hesitation, true. If I’m being honest, he has quite a few labels already: Cute, smart, stubborn, unique, high needs, emotional, creative—the list goes on. But I’m looking for a clinical label. I know what he is like, I want to know why. And more importantly, I want others to know as well.
When my oldest son was younger, he didn’t have a clinical label, but he wore a permanent “Hello My Name is ______” sticker filled with adjectives. Handful. Hyper. Quick to Temper. Troublemaker. Distracted. Distracting. The way people viewed him and his behaviour could fill a book. It hurt his self-esteem. It hurt mine. He wondered if it was his fault he was always in trouble, or never finished his work. He worried he wasn’t as good as the other kids. He felt weird amongst his peers.
We wondered if we were doing something wrong in the way we were raising him. Were we bad parents? We knew he was a good kid, deep down, under all that noise, so was it our fault he was causing so much trouble at school?
Then he received a label that changed everything: Child with ADHD. Suddenly, there was a reason behind all those negative labels. He was not a troublemaker, or lazy, or a handful. His brain worked differently than other children’s and required help to perform at its best.
With this label came open doors. He was given access to the support he needed. He went on medication that improved all of our lives, especially his. His teachers knew to approach him differently than they would a neurotypical child.
He was allowed to do his work using a clipboard, walking around the room. This approach meant that for the first time in his educational career he was finishing work in class. No longer spending all of his energy on just being able to stay in his chair, he was able to shift his efforts to the task at hand. His teachers stopped seeing him as a kid who was messing around instead of working, but rather as someone who cannot focus on his work if he is trying so hard to stay still.
His performance in school and his self-confidence spiked. This label gave him wings, and he is soaring. When we got his first post-diagnosis and treatment starting report card, he cried when he saw how much he had improved. He understands now why he struggles and what he can do about it.
And so I anxiously await the chance to label my second child. Do I hope he has ADHD or something else that would warrant a label? No, not exactly. At least I didn’t when he was born. But here’s the thing—he is different. From an early age, he wasn’t like most kids. I have taught hundreds of toddlers in my career, and no one has been like him. He was letter obsessed at one, he was reading and writing by two. He becomes overwhelmed or enraged by minor conflicts. He hasn’t started kindergarten yet, is solving grade two math problems—but struggles to find and put on his own shoes.
With or without a clinical label, there is something different about my boy, and I want to know what it is. I want him to have the same opportunities his brother has to have his differences respected and his special needs met. I don’t want him to feel the weight that labels like Troublemaker carry. I want him to know why he finds some things so easy and some things so difficult, and that it’s okay that he is not like his peers.
It is human nature to assign labels to yourself and to others based on images projected and feedback received. I want to make sure the labels given to my children are accurate. Smart. Kind. Hard Working. Creative. Neurodivergent.
Clinical labels are not the problem. Giving a child a label like Child With ADHD does not make people treat them poorly—treating people with labels poorly is the problem. Embrace the label: it is instrumental in getting children the support they need. Fight the stigma instead.