“Are Labels Good for Kids?” is an article that discusses whether or not it is more helpful or harmful for children receiving special education services to be labeled. The authors debate a variety of options available to parents who are in the position of arguing for services on behalf of their children; in addition, the subject is placed in the context of whether or not labels are helpful for teams of school professionals who are trying to determine ways to help students who are struggling. This paper will present a critical evaluation of the article, including a summary, pros and cons of labeling, and reactions to the article.
The article draws on the experiences of both of the professionals who wrote it. Senokossoff described her bewilderment when her son’s behavior began to change dramatically, and her feelings of helplessness at her inability to help him. Ultimately, when reading a book about bipolar disorder, she was able to recognize that her son was suffering from a childhood version of this disorder, and was able to achieve a sense of relief from the understanding and plan of action that she was able to follow after learning about the root of this problem. On the other hand, Shannon, a psychiatrist, rejected the idea that such labels are helpful because while they provide relief to parents, there is also a danger that putting children in a specific category all too frequently leads to medicating them.
The article discusses the pros and cons of labeling children using psychiatric terms. On one hand, labels can serve a positive function in that they cause people to discuss different conditions and behaviors. In addition, labeling frequently facilitates research, services, and supports for the families of children with difficulties. Advocates of labeling argue that with or without a label, the behavior exists, but without the label there would be a lesser degree of understanding and focused services. On the other hand, there are certainly potential negative consequences of giving children behavioral and emotional labels. There is the risk that children interpret the label as meaning that they are broken, and this can result in a loss of confidence when performing necessary tasks. In addition, labeling can threaten to define children by their disability rather than as individuals, and can result in attitudes about what people with a disability cannot do rather than what they can do.
The question posed by the article is answered in an extremely balanced way, because both of the authors base their opinions on sound personal and professional experiences that have nevertheless brought them to completely different conclusions. Senokossoff clearly describes the benefits to herself and her child of finally gaining understanding about his mental health status, and feeling some comfort in the fact that what was happening with him was not unique to her child, but was also experienced by many other parents and children. Not only was there a degree of comfort involved, but there was also a wealth of concrete educational information and support available to her and her son. Shannon also makes a compelling case for resisting the temptation to relieve symptoms with medication and instead, finding creative ways to help children feel better using methods aside from medication whenever possible.
Although there is no question that putting a child on psychotropic medication to treat a serious condition is worrisome and troubling, in some situations I believe that it is absolutely necessary to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences. I don’t believe that any parent makes this decision lightly, but one has to balance the risks of not following the recommendations of a reputable specialist if medication is recommended for, for example, childhood bipolar disorder. How would a parent feel if he or she opted not to follow medical advice for a child with severe depression, rejected the idea of medication, and ultimately had to cope with either the loss of a child to suicide or a child who harms someone else? It is important to educate people about how to regard people with disabilities, i.e., that they have a disability rather than being a disability, but the risks of not taking advantage of tremendous amounts of research and clinical experience are simply too great to ignore. In such a difficult situation, I believe that this would be my rationale for considering utilizing the expertise of those who came before me.