Thursday, August 13, 2009


We know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a student fit within a labeled category before receiving special support services in the public schools -- but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Learning and attention issues – as well as all other aspects of a student’s academic, social, and emotional well-being – are extraordinarily complex and consist of a number of distinct functions. When schools use labels like “learning disabled” or “ADD” to describe a student, they are using a vocabulary that is simultaneously too broad and not detailed enough to describe what is going on with a particular child.

Even more importantly, using an area of difficulty to label a student sends a message to both the child and those he encounters that this weakness is a fundamental part of who he is. Sam may have difficulties with certain aspects of attention, but he is also a gifted artist, interested in music, and has incredible story-telling skills. Sam makes friends easily and is a wonderful big brother. None of these strengths come through when Sam is described as “ADHD”. It’s a label that doesn’t really help – and can be both hurtful and inaccurate.

So, what can you do as a parent? Recognize the power of your words and think before you use an area of weakness to describe your child. Understand your child’s learning profile – his strengths as well as his weaknesses -- so you can work on strategies to improve his areas of weakness and build upon his strengths. And, remember to tell him that he's a terrific kid. That's one label that we do like.