Please don’t label my son

With the start of every school year, it starts again.  It’s parent teacher conference time.  It’s time, once again, for the professional educators to try and label my son.

The thing is… well… he doesn’t fit neatly into any of the predefined categories.  He defies diagnosis.  He’s been that way since before birth.

So once again, I’ll be sitting with a teacher who will ask for his label.  Once again, I know she probably won’t like my answer…

It started before his birth.

The very first label ever placed on my son was, to quote the doctor,  “incompatible with life.”

In my second trimester of pregnancy, we got some scary test results back.  Statistically speaking, they recommended that I terminate the pregnancy rather than continue to heartbreak.  My amazing boy – the one that is so full of life and energy – isn’t even supposed to be here.

Obviously, I didn’t follow my doctor’s advice.  Instead, I prayed more than you can possibly imagine.  Before he was even born, I came to peace with the fact God had given me a son that might not be Fifties television perfect.  Before he was born, I knew that I had been handed something different, but that it was OK because God had a plan.

When he was born, he screamed his defiance of my doctor’s expectations for the whole world to hear.  He took his first breath… and his miraculous second.  He completely failed to exhibit any of the signs that – statistically speaking – he should have.

He’s been this way since before two.

For much of the first two years of his life, my son was in the care of others while I worked.

By his second birthday, it was clear that something was wrong.  Somewhere along the way, he started a habit of rocking back and forth all day.  By two, he had abs of steel.

Unfortunately, he also would go rigid in my arms when I tried to hug him.

When I started staying home with my son, it was with the tight hot worry that my son was showing signs of Autism.  I had printed out the checklist.  He was one checkbox off the whole list.

Weeks passed.  With a stay at home mom, he stopped rocking.  He started cuddling.  He bloomed.

I’m pretty convinced that momma love was the only thing he needed.  I’m pretty sure it still is.

He’s been diagnosed already.

Twice.

I’ve already paid to have him diagnosed.  Two entirely separate sets of professionals gave him two different sets of assessments.  They talked with him at length. They listened as I poured out his story.

They gave me two entirely different diagnoses.

The only thing that the two professionals agreed on was that the labels weren’t quite right.

Nothing quite fit…

… he would have been more appropriately diagnosed as X except for this one check box

… he’s one check box off of Y

… he’s on a spectrum of his own…

… but he’s bright… and capable… and willing….

Each time, we tried the labels on for size.

Each time, my son completely failed to live up to medical and scientific predictions.

I know what you’re thinking.

Trust me, I’ve already heard it.  Well meaning moms and dads have stood on the sidelines during soccer practice and discussed my son with me.  Well intentioned friends and family have made suggestions, handed us magazine articles, emailed us research, and gently suggested labels.

I get it.

It would be really nice to find a label for my son.  That would make things so much easier.

I’d love to be able to brush away that embarrassing little behavioral quirk as “just part of his syndrome Y thing.”  But I can’t… there is no label that fits.

I’d love to give the world a way to unlock my child and understand him.  I know he’s a bit of an unpredictable puzzle.  The best suggestion I have to just talk to him.  Get to know him.  He’ll hand you the key that you need.

Unofficially, we’ve called it “future geek syndrome.”

I know you want a label.  I understand that for many kids, labels work.  I get that, I really do.  There’s nothing wrong with labels when they fit.

I know you want a label.  You want there to be some diagnosis so that you can “cure” my child of all those little quirky things that make him hard to manage in the classroom.  You want there to be a logical list, a magic formula, a recipe to follow… anything that’s a guarantee for success in dealing with my child.

So do I.

I understand.

But…

He doesn’t need a label.

Here’s the big truth I finally had to swallow.

He doesn’t need a label.  He doesn’t need fixing.  He doesn’t need a diagnosis.

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MY CHILD.

He is who God created him to be.  He always has been.  He always will be.

All those things that make him hard to manage in the classroom… they’ll be the things that make him amazing as an adult.

All those little physical quirks… the ones I know he gets gently teased for… they make the girls smile.  I’m sure his future wife will love them.

my son does not need labels

When I look at him through the lens of time, I see amazing things.  I see huge potential.  I see my son growing into a young man who loves God, who is filled with confidence, who is bright and curious and not afraid to dream big dreams.

I love that.

God gave me the job of protecting that.  Not in a helicopter mom kind of way.  I protect my son from well intentioned grownups who would limit him with labels.  I champion his right to be himself, even when that’s not convenient.  The rest is up to him.

I’ve been fighting for my son since before he was born.  I’ve stood up to all kinds of experts and professionals to follow my momma heart.  I’ve cried out in prayer more often than you can possibly know.  He has a way of driving me to my knees, but I wouldn’t change a thing about him.

So please… don’t try to stick a label on my son.

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Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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Comments

  1. Beautfiful post Susan! Thank you for sharing your son’s story with us. He is a child of God, and wonderfully made. This is the only label your son needs. Have a lovely Thurday!

  2. Sounds as though God knew exactly what he was doing in giving you your son and him to you. What a wonderful post–your love for you son shines through it.

    • Thank you so much friend! You have no idea how hard it was to post this. I wasn’t sure anyone would understand. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only mom in the world with a child who can’t be labeled. It’s lonely and scary. I’m in tears to learn that I’m not alone.

  3. These labels are often so limiting for students anyway – if I had a pound for each time I’ve heard a child say “I can’t help it, I always do this.” Such a limiting belief. Or, even worse “My mum says I can’t help. I can’t do anything different.”

    I think keep going – labels are only useful if they’re useful (getting extra time in exams from a reluctant exam board for example). If they’re not useful – avoid them.

    Sarah @ A Cat-Like Curiosity

    • Sarah –
      Labels do have their uses. For some families I know, the proper label has lead to a much happier family and amazing things for the child. That’s when the label fits. In those circumstances, the label really was the magic key that unlocked the child. I smiled and watched as a family figured out how to embrace their child’s uniqueness instead of trying to stamp it out because it wasn’t “normal.”

      Labels that give our children the freedom to be themselves and that give them the space they need are fabulous. Extra time on the test, permission to type instead of turn in handwritten scribble, tolerance when a child needs to stand instead of sit, a small lump of clay slipped in the hands of a fidgety child… fabulous.

      Labels that are used to limit our children… not so much.

      We have enough paperwork to get my son the space he needs when it really matters. My son has no idea what those papers say other than that he’s very bright. For now, that’s enough.

  4. This is such a touching post. It’s definitely one worth reading for someone who doesn’t understand your position. Thank you for sharing this prospective.

    • Crystal I’m not sure I actually have a position. I just know what works for MY son.

      I’m not against labeling when it works. My post wasn’t meant as a criticism to other families. Every child is different. Every family needs to have the freedom to find what works for them.

      I honestly wish there was a clean diagnosis that fit. It would be soooo much easier. I’m tired of well intentioned adults watching my son and then asking me (in not so many words) “what’s wrong with your son, he isn’t normal.” I know what they’re getting at, and I’m aware that he’s a bit quirky. But sometimes, there really is no way to explain my son.

      Years ago, well before I was a mom, I read a magazine article written by a mom who had a son who was quirky. There was no label that fit that child either. It was her story – her heart. I wish I could find her and hug her. Just knowing that she exists helps me not feel so all alone. I wrote this post in an effort to give a voice to all the other moms who have quirky kids. I know we exist.

      Not much of a position, I know. 🙂

  5. This is beautiful. I LOVE how you fight for your son. Such a beautiful view into a mom’s heart.

  6. What you have to say about labels really resonates with me.

    My eight year old dd is similar….just a little bit all over the place. And I’m at the point where I don’t want a diagnosis. I don’t need that. It’s not going to help me better parent her.

    Thank you so much for your bravery and writing this post.

  7. All children should be loved like you love your son. Thank you.

  8. My wife is a teacher and our son is autistic. So, she has a special insight to all kids needing to be treated differently. She wishes she could instill in other teachers not to label ever child. However, just like every other worker in America, they are pushed to their limits and without proper training ill-equipped to deal with our children’s needs.

    • I feel for teachers. I know they’re pushed to the limits and potentially ill-equipped. Even the well equipped ones are stretched thin with too many students, too much paperwork, and too little time to actually TEACH.

      Since writing this post, my family has made the difficult decision to homeschool both our sons. After repeated efforts, it became apparent that no school, no matter how well equipped, would be a safe place for my son to learn and thrive.

      I wish you and your wife all the best in raising your son.

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