One 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.
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 TerryTutors.com.