Closing the door on labels?

Katina Offord responds to an article in our December issue.

I was impressed by Lauren McGregor’s piece on neurodevelopmental diagnosis and the problem of satisfying the parents’ need to have a label when their child is experiencing difficulties (December issue). As a special needs teacher with 30 years’ experience of supporting children with specific learning difficulties I, too, found a diagnosis or label was what most families wanted. In some cases, where both parents work long hours and there is little time for anything more than organising their children, I was struck by the relief that they experienced on getting a label, and felt that it allowed them to abdicate responsibility for their child’s behaviour. A kind of, ‘it’s not our fault then, that he’s difficult in social situations, he’s on the spectrum so there’s nothing that can be done’.

Strategies for supporting the child should be part and parcel of the diagnosis, as in my experience, these children need more parenting not less.

When a child of seven is given an IQ score, psychologists tell the parents that this represents what the child is capable of for a six-month period. Why, then, does a diagnosis of ADHD at the same age become a permanent fixture of that child’s learning profile? Surely the same time frame should be allocated to specific difficulties as, often, they represent an immaturity in specific areas of function, rather than a permanent state. This is especially true if interventions are put in place at home and in school to support the child in reframing their behaviour.

It would be better for psychologists to describe the child’s individual difficulties such as: ‘Bertie is having difficulty making risk assessments at the moment and this is preventing him from making age-appropriate decisions regarding danger. We will need to talk through the consequences of running on the road, climbing on the roof etc. so that he can make better judgements about his physical safety in the future.’

Breaking down a child’s difficulties into bite-sized chunks and offering strategies for supporting them would surely provide parents with hope for a better outcome (and engage them in the process) rather than giving them a label and closing the door on progress.

What are your views?

Katina Offord
Special needs teacher

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