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To the School Psychologist Who Incorrectly Labeled My Daughter With Cerebral Palsy

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I have started many emails to you because I think you were really wrong in your assessment of my daughter, Emerson. You incorrectly labeled her with intellectual disabilities because of her physical condition due to cerebral palsyAnd I think you will likely assess many other children who have significant motor disabilities like cerebral palsy unfairly.

Dawn Hamilton's daughter
Dawn’s daughter, Emerson.

I hope you will do more research and open your mind as to not dismiss other kids like you dismissed Emerson. I know it was difficult for you to see what was going on inside Emerson’s mind with your standardized tests, which aren’t suited to a nonverbal child with motor issues and a visual impairment, and considering your minimal time with her.

But you also seemed to totally disregard what others who do know her (like her speech therapist who believes Emerson is right on track for her age cognitively) and have much more experience with kids like her had to say. The school district obviously agreed with me, because they agreed without any resistance to fund an independent evaluation from someone with more relevant experience.

That said, as an advocate for Emerson and all kids fighting a system that wants to label them and make premature assumptions about their abilities, I feel it’s important to help educate you. Here’s a link to a great story on CBS New York’s website about a teen with CP who was obviously surrounded by people who believed in him and presumed competence even before he was able to show it. He may not have been able to demonstrate “self-care” skills due to his movement disorder back when he was 4 years old or even now at 18 years old, but I don’t believe anyone who knew him would have labeled him with an intellectual disability.

Please educate yourself. You’re doing children a disservice by incorrectly labeling them and underestimating their abilities. These labels, when given incorrectly, can be dangerous. Thankfully, Emerson has gotten into a school that values all kids regardless of their abilities or disabilities and where the bar is set high and competence is presumed.

Sadly, not all kids with disabilities are as fortunate, and not all parents know to question professionals who are supposed to be “experts,” but sometimes become barriers.

I hope in the future you would be willing to say “I don’t know” or “My assessment is inconclusive” before throwing a label on a child who can’t yet fully communicate what is going on inside her blossoming mind because of a body that won’t cooperate.

Follow this journey on the Emmy Is a Star Facebook page.

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Originally published: May 7, 2016
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