Are Labels Really So Bad?

labelOne of the most common concerns I hear from parents who are considering testing their child for learning differences is the fear of labeling. Will this label follow my child around for the rest of their education or even their life? Will my child be known by their label alone? Will it define who they are?

Our Society Labels Everything & Everyone

These concerns are real and should not be taken lightly, but the fact of the matter is that in our society we label everything, and that’s how we choose to collectively define and describe ideas, things, and, yes, even people. When a child is born they are labeled by their gender. When a child excels or is challenged by a task or developmental stage they are labeled by their parents as a “natural talent” or “late bloomer”. These labels follow us around forever and contribute to who we are as adults. For example, I will always be labeled as the child whose first bite of food was a chocolate chip cookie– forever labeled as the girl with a sweet tooth.

The Unmeasureables & The Unknowns

A parent’s fear of having their child tested is exacerbated by the unknown and the what-if’s of the process. But a test is not indicative of a child’s long-term potential. In fact, that’s why the IEP requires a Triannual Review, a new assessment every three years.  See, a test or assessment measures only where the child is in relation to his or her peers at that moment in time. It cannot measure how a child positively compensates for their challenges or their fighting spirit or how a warm, supportive household will shape a child’s meter of self-esteem, aiding them in their battle to win over any learning differences. These are the unmeasurables and the unknowns. These are the natural and environmental influences that cannot be tested.

To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question

When considering whether to have your child assessed for a learning difference, there are two factors to think about: (1) Do I want to know the root cause of my child’s challenge?, and (2) Do I want federal dollars to help my child if there is a problem?

I encourage parents to seek out testing because, like anything, if we don’t understand the root of the problem we can’t seek out the appropriate solution. Whether it be a Functional Behavior Assessment or Psycho-Educational Assessment, knowing the underlying cause of an issue can only serve to help figure out the right path to achieve individual success. Additionally, the fact of the matter is that if you are seeking state provided services through the public school system or the Regional Centers an assessment is mandatory to determine such needs. Federal dollars are apportioned via an objective standard of measurement–a test. Where your child scores in relation to his or her peers will determine what type of help and how much money the state offers to support your child’s needs.

Your Rights

As the parent or legal guardian, you ALWAYS have the right to refrain from having your child tested. No one, not even the state, can make you do this. Never feel that your only option is to sign that piece of paper and check the box that says “yes”.  Many parents supplement support (OT, SLP, PT, Behavior, Academic, Psychological) through private outside providers. Some choose to collaborate with the school without a formal IEP or 504 Plan in place by coming up with their own version of support. Others choose to home-school or enroll in private schools or charters with smaller class sizes. Whatever choice you make, know that it must be your choice because you are the ultimate decision-maker for your child’s needs.

If you’re refraining from having your child tested for fear of labeling, however, I ask that you think about which is more important: A label or getting the help your child needs?

We all come to the table with different viewpoints, different experiences, different family dynamics, different struggles and achievements– different labels. We label ourselves and we label each other. It’s not the label itself that will determine your child’s success though, but rather your ability as the parent to help your child shape their success by defining their own labels for themselves and the world around them.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to


10 thoughts on “Are Labels Really So Bad?

  1. Great Article!!! I too am often posed the question of will this label follow my child? However I have also found for many families once knowing the root cause they can then begin to focus on moving forward as they finally know where they are starting from.


    • Thank you, Renee! Yes, once parents get the report back sometimes there is even a sigh of relief because they know it’s not anything they were doing but rather a learning difference or behavior concern that needs outside support. Glad to hear you’re finding the same thing with the families you serve.



    • Thank you so much! Yes, please reblog and share with those you think it would help.

      Love the premise of your site as well. We need more parents sharing their story!



  2. Reblogged this on My Puzzling Piece: A Glance Into A Puzzling Existance and commented:
    One of our biggest fears when we were considering getting our child evaluated for Autism was the effect of the “label.” Six months later, I feel confident that we did the absolute best thing we could have done in getting him evaluated (and now he is in therapy). For those of you out there, I can promise you, that the labels are really so bad, at all. I love this article on the subject! 🙂


  3. My advice to parents beginning this journey is this, while society may see it as a label, in truth it is a diagnosis, one we need to get the right services for our child’s needs. Sometimes, without that label, you simply cannot qualify for them. I have two boys with autism, they are now 22 and almost 25. Thank you for being a positive advocate, encouraging testing . . . Early intervention is crucial :o)


    • I couldn’t agree with you more! Early intervention is key. Oftentimes though, parents I work with struggle with acceptance and sometimes it’s hard for me, as the Advocate, to wait for the family to take the initial step of deciding to move forward. Two lessons I’ve learned over the years: patience and acceptance.

      It’s wonderful to hear that you have taken the necessary, practical steps to help your boys get the services needed. Thank you for being an active advocate for your kids!

      Christine Terry, Founder


  4. I never really understood the whole label issue. I always figured autism was just a name that people called a certain set of behavior. Having the diagnosis doesn’t add anything to you or take anything away from you. It just gives a name to what is already there. I think too many people see autism as a loss of something when really it’s just a name for the difference of something.


  5. Also, I don’t walk around telling people I have autism. Or wear a shirt saying I’ve been diagnosed with autism. Most people don’t even know I have autism. So the label isn’t an issue in every day life. People don’t treat me any different than they would treat anyone else. So unless you go around announcing to everyone that you or your child has autism, I’m not sure why the label would make a difference.


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