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Autism and Labels

I recently heard a story about a mom referring to her son’s quirky behavior by saying to a friend “You know it’s an Asperger’s thing”.  But in actuality her son is not diagnosed with Asperger’s or any other developmental disorder.  This leads me to believe that there are some people that are utilizing the term Asperger’s as a way to define a challenging child or moment.

Personally, I am not a fan of labels.  Many of our kids on the spectrum are referred to as Autistic but most parents and professionals now opt for the less concrete/more flexible phrasing of “child with autism”.  This allows us to presuppose that the child has autism but the autism does not have or define the child.  It’s more than just political correctness, I believe how we communicate to (and about) our kids, how we in fact reference any of our loved ones sets the tone for how they hold themselves.    To borrow a very famous quotation by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,  children should  “… not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.  So too, I would offer that our kids with Asperger’s and on the Autism spectrum should  not be defined by the labels we put on them but by who they are as individuals.    This also goes for the labels they may be given by their peers.  Kids may be called geeks or wierdos by their peers who don’t have the capacity to see past social differences.

I say we raise the level of conversation.  Of course we can and will continue to use the diagnostic terms.  In fact many outside the autism community need to hear more about what the terms are and mean.  But while we are speaking to the developmental label, let us also speak to and about THE INDIVIDUAL.  Let us find those moments in conversation to share the unique and innate beauty of all our kids so that not only does our society respect their full value but our kids know it for themselves.

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