Dr. Emi Garzitto
A Label is Not a Solution
Schools are looking for ways to best serve a diverse group of students.
One of the ways students qualify for additional support is through having students tested and designated. This child has a learning disability. This child is on the autism spectrum. This child has Attention Deficit Disorder. Each designation provides some additional supports for the child - more time for tests, modified programs, additional resource support, additional adult support in the classroom. It all depends.
All these labels and designations are designed to match the support with the need. It is about finding a way to maximize success. It's not perfect, but it definitely helps.
It is important families and schools learn and appreciate a child's challenges.
It makes no sense to teach a student who struggles with ADD and expect them to process all the instructions while sitting in a chair and holding a pencil.
It makes no sense to teach a student challenged by sensory overload in a classroom filled with colors, light and clutter.
The challenge, is not to confuse the person with the label. Or worse, minimize the learning opportunities for a child because of their learning profile. Of course my bias around this has everything to do with social emotional learning.
No matter what label a child is given, it is not a solution. It is the starting point. It is information we use to match the teaching practice with the learning profile.
Children with autism still need to practice self regulation.
Students with ADD still need to train their brain's to delay gratification.
Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome still need to work on patience.
Children with autism or learning disabilities or attention disorders are not immune from social emotional pitfalls - they can be spoiled, risk averse, practice unkind, disrespectful or selfish behavior. Just like any child in a classroom, designated children need social emotional practice. In my opinion, more practice, not less. It may be in smaller increments, the expectations match the learning profile, but we practice it nevertheless.
"Oh she's on the Spectrum"
"My son is highly anxious".
This is not the end of the sentence, it is the beginning of one. It means we give the child even more practice with their social emotional skills not less. It means we meet them where they are at, and then move them forward. It means we hold them accountable for their feelings and actions, in whatever way they are able to understand and appreciate.
A label is not a solution. It should never be used to excuse bad behavior or minimize social emotional learning.
If we do not do the hard work of laying down the groundwork of repeated social emotional practice, we run the risk of handicapping the student even further. And that is not a good thing. Not for the teacher, not for the parent and especially not for the child.