Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Labels and quirky people

I loved today's post from stark.raving.mad.mommy.  Not only can I sympathize with her daughters' overabundance of Littlest Pet Shop figures, but I can appreciate her observation that no one is really "neurotypical" or "NT" (one way "normal" people are described in autism circles, to differentiate them from people with autism spectrum disorders).  After all, we're all quirky in some way.  It's when our individuality crosses some invisible boundary that we become eligible for a label as being outside the norm (whether the term is descriptive or diagnostic).  Anyhow, who decides who is normal?

I guess I'm sometimes a bit hyper about names and labels, and very choosy about how I describe people or talk about them.  So many labels are freighted with negativity ("retarded"), while others are so over-used as to be almost  meaningless ("hyperactive").  The media tosses around descriptions and labels like confetti, trying to distill a person's uniqueness into the psychological equivalent of a sound bite.  He's "narcissistic," she's "co-dependent," he's "schizophrenic," she's "manic-depressive," and it goes on and on in a less diagnostic vein with he's a jock, she's a diva, he's a geek, she's a nerd, etc.  I often think about the labels we assume for ourselves and place on others.  So much harm can be done with a single word, and so much healing can be done with another.  No wonder it says in the the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament,

 The tongue has the power of life and death,
   and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prov. 18:21)
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
   but the tongue of the wise brings healing.(Prov. 12:18)

Anyone who has ever been bullied or verbally abused can attest to the power of words and labels.  I don't need to write any of them here - you've probably already thought of the ones hurled at you that have stuck in your memory from years ago, or just from yesterday.  I try, oh how I try, to be careful how I use my words around my kids and my family and friends, and I cringe inside when I mess up in a moment of anger or selfishness and wound with my words.

How did I get here from talking about the term "neurotypical"?  I guess I find the term to be just a bit PC for my taste - another example of political correctness.  No, I do NOT want to go back to the old terminology for various disorders or illnesses (I'm old enough that "mongoloid" was still in my college textbooks regarding Down Syndrome).  But I'm still ambivalent about describing my children as an Aspie and an NT.  I guess I prefer to say that my one child has Asperger's Syndrome, while the other doesn't.  He doesn't need a label to be himself and be more worthy of love, and neither does she.

So, I guess my point is that we should be careful with the labels we give others and the labels we assume for ourselves.  Use them as reference points for character traits and individual abilities, to learn and share, admonish and encourage, diagnose and treat, but remember that every person is far more than the sum of their labels.

Or, as I've heard before, "Normal is just a setting on your dryer."


  1. So very true. I was just speaking at length to another Mom about this very thing. Her family is being provided a home health aide for their 'disabled' child who is Austistic. 40 hours per week they will have someone extra in their home to observe and aide their 16 year old son who can become outrageously angry and volatile. They really only see that side when he's upset, or when he feels bullied/hurt. They have never used the term disabled to describe him, and now he's having a lot of anxiety to a new person being around him all the time.He keeps wanting to know why, and the new worker says to help with your 'disability'. He becomes enraged, undresses completely, flails himself around the room...all because of that term, and the home health aide won't stop using that term since that is why she was assigned there. Labels can do so much more harm than good...

    The photo....is that the boy on his bike? How old is he there??

  2. Yes, that's the boy - I think he's about 9 there.

    We've been careful to NOT describe his AS to him as a disability. We don't want him to use it as an excuse (even though it may be a perfectly valid REASON for issues at times). When he was first old enough to realize that he's different than most kids, we told him that he has AS and that means that he thinks differently and sees the world differently than most people. The difference can be good, but he needs to do his best to get along within normal social boundaries.