What I Realized About Labels After My Sons' Autism and ADHD Diagnoses


“I thought about pursuing a diagnosis, but the teacher said, ‘Do you really want him labeled?’”

“You know, when kids get labeled, they’re stuck with it their entire lives!”

“Some kids are just different. Do you want a label pulling him down?”

It seems to me that our society hates labels. Wait, scratch that. Our society fears labels.

And for a while, I did too. Here’s one some people might think is “scary”: autism. Here’s another one that in my experience receives eye-rolling and tongue clicking from some people: ADHD. And a final label: learning disability.

Labels. I get it. They can seem powerful and scary at times. There’s power in speaking names, in giving words to silent fears that have only existed in the “what ifs” of a parent’s mind.

For a while, it was easy for me to pretend that if we didn’t put a name to my sons’ challenges, then they weren’t really real. I resisted, hard and long, because I didn’t want the label to change anything. I didn’t want labels to change the way people thought about my sons. Most of all, I didn’t want it to change my sons.

In reality, I didn’t understand what labels really are. But here’s the truth, and it isn’t as scary as I once thought it was: A label is a word or definition that brings clarity to a situation and opens the door to services or aid.

That’s it.

Now, sometimes the definition is so huge that it takes weeks, months or even years to wrap your head around, to try to understand, to process emotions, and to accept the truth the label brings. Like, autism. Like, ADHD.

But as huge as the label might be, its primary purpose is to be a key: it opens the door to knowledge, to counseling, to occupational therapy, to speech therapy, to IEPs, to 504 plans, to new parenting practices, new friends, new ways of looking at the world, new ways of understanding my sons.

But here’s what the labels did not do: They did not give me new sons.

The labels did not paint my sons from head to foot with bold, black stereotypes. They do not mean my sons won’t be or become everything they are supposed to be and become. The labels did not change my sons at all. But the labels did change me. They changed me, all at once, and slowly too.

They have forced me to peel away my preconceived notions about disabilities and what it means to have kids with disabilities. They have urged me to love unconditionally. They have given me permission to forgive myself for what I didn’t know before and comforted me with the truth that I am not a bad parent and that I really am a good mom. They have given me knowledge, drive, passion, a new vocabulary and a thicker skin. They have brought me peace and have urged me towards contentment and acceptance, both of myself and my sons.

My sons, my precious twins? The labels didn’t change them. They were always and will always be themselves, fearfully and wonderfully made. Words are powerful, and the powerful labels we’ve accepted as true have only given me the power to be the best mother I can be to my boys.

Labels can change a person, but not always the person you think.

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Thinkstock image by romrodinka


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