Why labeling children is harmful: ODD, ADHD, Aspergias, Dyslexic etc.

Posted Aug 15, 2007 by Leah Gray
No one is denying that there are variations of ability among children or that some struggle with particular subjects or situations more than others. That has always been the case with humans and always will be. We are 'different' to each other.
But in recent times it seems that different is now a 'mental health problem' and attracts a wide array of labels, which in themselves can be very harmful to children. They can become a self fulfilling prophecy as well as damaging the child's self esteem.
I am not anti using labels to diagnose a problem, as I understand that most labeling is necessary in order to identify a problem that needs specialist attention and can relieve the parent and child of wondering why they are not able to keep up with their peers. But I advise caution, as the side effect of this can be that we are too quick to find labels to suit what may otherwise be transient, fleeting problems.
It is bearing those short-term problems in mind that I am compelled to write this article.
Labels are all around us, but this article focuses on children particularly as children tend to adopt any labels given to them as 'their role in life'. We know that modern parenting books advise against telling children they are 'naughty' but rather we say the action was 'naughty' instead. I.e. 'Throwing that ball was naughty' rather than 'you are a naughty child for throwing that ball'. Children believe most of everything adults tell them, so if you tell them they are 'A' they will believe you and model their behavior accordingly.
Consider this:
If you were labeled ‘antisocial’ because you did not wish to participate in the street party that mostly everyone else in your street was enjoying, would you think that a fair and reasonable assessment of your character? Does the fact that you dislike crowds and hustle and bustle and noise and instead prefer quieter more select group activities mean that you are some how defective as a human being and deserving of a specialized label or worse labeled as having a mental health problem? Knowing that there are many like you does not reduce the likelihood of your being given this label. Are you abnormal as the label suggests and suffering from a mental health problem, or are you just different to those who enjoy the fayre?
Are we allowed to be different to the majority anymore without attracting a label?
According to what is happening in recent years with children the answer to that question is a resounding no. Children are not allowed to be different. Teaching standards fit a particular model of education and if that model does not suit your individual learning leads, you are diagnosed as having a 'mental health problem' and given a label that will follow you throughout your life. A simple adjustment to teaching style could eliminate your difficulty in certain areas but still the label remains.
Labeling creates an image you are defective which can lead to low self-esteem, hinder progress and worse become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Psychologists and Sociologists are aware of this problem so why is labeling the differences on the increase? Please view this very informative article, which discusses 'educational authorities' desire for labels and the harm they do.
This world is made up of a great many different people and necessarily so. As well as academics, we also need practical, creative, physical people to do those jobs that require, strength, passion, single mindedness, leadership, and courage. Yet if we try to create a ‘personality’ type that all children adhere to, the diversity of character required to fulfill those many different roles will disappear and we will be left with a group of people who can only perform a single function.
Diversity is a good thing, even if it does put pressure on educational services to accommodate the different learning styles! I am very wary of the popularity of labels being attached to what was previously a case of 'not having an aptitude' for a particular subject.
Different teaching methods in all subjects can show improvement as we all have different ways in which we process information. One of the reasons boys are no longer doing so well in schools is that the education method is now more geared towards a female style of learning than a males.
But if we are not careful rather than recognize the need for a different teaching method, we will start labeling boys (who are not effeminate) as having some educational deficit. What we need here is greater variety of teaching methods, rather than one size fits all and a bunch of unhelpful labels that convince the child they are 'abnormal' and cannot change.
Studies show that many children diagnosed as ADHD improve when on a proper diet with proper stimulation and guidance. The reason for this could be misdiagnosis of the behaviour, which was instead the result of poor diet etc and not neurological. Misdiagnosis is a common problem with this disorder. The results of misdiagnosis can be devastating for the child as it is has been shown that Ritalin can cause brain damage if prescribed incorrectly. Presumably they know this because it has been prescribed incorrectly and those are the results! I therefore advise caution before accepting a 'label' like this for your child and advise ruling out other possible causative factors first.
Labels once applied tend to focus our full attention on treating the symptoms. We forget about the possible cause. Meanwhile the child is stigmatised for life. A percentage will be unaffected by changes in diet and routine and support and possibly can benefit from medication but many are too easily labeled with disastrous results.
Supporting sources below:
"The harm labeling children as ‘depressed’ can reap. “So how did we get into this mess, asks the author? Undoubtedly, part of the problem is with pharmaceutical industry tactics, but changes in Western cultural beliefs have also resulted in more childhood behaviours being viewed as a medical problem"
"The writer argues that one of the worst existing problems occurs when children are mislabeled as 'special' education and just 'thrown' into some classification that is really unnecessary."
“From anxious, often upscale, parents of young students to teachers in troubled schools, Levine delivers the same message, that all people -- and especially students -- are wired differently. He preaches the virtues of helping kids understand their strengths and weaknesses as part of understanding the way learning works."
"I always tell people that from the moment a kid gets up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night, the central mission of the day is to avoid humiliation at all costs." - Dr. Mel Levine
David Boulton: Yes, but my sense is that you're not so much pushing a corpus of knowledge that you want people to behave in relationship to, as much as you're trying to help inspire and develop and inform a different kind of lens, a different orientation from which to participate.
Dr. Mel Levine: That's one hundred percent correct. So, it's a lens where you look for recurring themes. Where you don't label anybody. Where you’re humble about who is normal and who is abnormal. Where you’re willing to say that a kid is quirky and eccentric rather than that he has Asperger Syndrome, which is my least favourite designation."
Re comments received on this article - see my follow up article ' Let's stop poisoning our children' here: