Friday, January 21, 2011

labels, labels and more labels

labels. i haven't heard so much about labels, as i have been recently. it seems everyone has so many feelings about labels; and everyone has been very open with me in sharing those feelings. First, lets think about labels as they relate to things, "objects". The online dictionary defines it as:

"a slip of paper, cloth, or other material, marked or inscribed, for attachment to something to indicate its manufacturer, nature, ownership, destination, etc."
So the purpose of the label is to tell people where an item came from, where it is made, what it is made from, and sometimes contains special directions for how it is to be cared for; and what some of it's intended uses might be. This is useful information, and as it relates to an object; it is not usually considered negative at all.

The dictionary further defines label as:
"a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc."
AND this is where it gets tricky. People are generally uncomfortable with labels being attache to people. I think perhaps, people feel labels will take away from their individuality; or they fear people will associate a label with them and that is all they will become; that it will change what people expect of someone.
AND this strikes me as a little odd, because we label ourselves, all the time in ways that we are okay with; in ways that are considered positive, without attaching various fears to these labels.

We are comfortable saying "I am a mechanic."... or "banker" or "doctor" or "teacher" or "mother".... we are okay with this, because it tells the world something about who we are, what we are good at, maybe it says something about how we "see" the world. We are okay with saying, "I'm artistic" or "musical" or "athletic".... these to are labels, labels we give to ourselves, labels that tell the world something about us. We do not fear these labels will limit us; we do not fear people will only think of us as these things. We are okay with these labels.

"We are unschoolers"... this is a label could tell people a lot about how we as are as a family. I do not fear that this label will limit us; or that this is a label we have made some huge commitment to; one that limits us from changing; if we as a family felt we wanted to.

Why all this talk of labels? I'll tell you why, because when it comes to medical labels, all of a sudden people start to carry around all kinds of fear, and negativity. Especially, when these labels are being applied to children. I have had a lot of time to think about this; AND I'm going to share some of those thoughts with you.

My husband has a diagnosis of narcolepsy. A label, yes? yes.
People hear this label, and they get the mental picture of someone falling asleep while they are driving, or walking, or bowling, or eating soup. It makes people giggle, and joke; because of this mental picture; this impression the world has of narcolepsy; an impression that is not entirely accurate or fact based. These kinds of situations, that people picture when thinking of narcolepsy, CAN happen to people carrying the label of narcolepsy; but they don't always; in fact, there are varying forms and degrees of narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a diagnosis we fought for. I want to be clear about this; we wanted a label that would explain some of the challenges my husband is facing. We wanted a label that would tell us, and others, something about him; something about his make-up, something about his needs and abilities. A label that would give our family access to help, that we legitimately needed.

I'm going to be honest too; there was a process involved in accepting this label. It wasn't like my husband got this diagnosis, and we said "YAY! what a positive thing! this is going to be great!" NO, we had fears; and it was a big process of adjustment that we had to go through. AND I don't believe people see this label attached to my husband, and see him as only that. I don't think people see him as less of an individual. Another honest part of the process was educating people about what this diagnosis, this label, meant. It was a little exhausting, honestly, because it caused a focus to be on the label for a period of time. But overall, this was a positive thing because it let people know more about what we were, and are facing. And to the people who know us and care about us, this label has not been a negative thing.

In the pediatricians office with my daughter last week, I was listening to the doctor talking about ADD and ADHD. It was general information. She was telling me what this label meant, and she was telling me about the kinds of coping skills and strategies children and adults develop when their brain works this way. As I listened, I had to stop her, I had to interrupt.... because she was describing me! She was describing so many things about my childhood. She asked me some more questions about it; and ended up telling me I probably have ADD! This is a label that "could" have been very useful to me, as a child; this label is very useful to me now. It tells me something about how my brain works, and how I learn best. It explains why I have to listen to music, if I want to be able to focus on a task; it explains why I have had SO much trouble learning certain things. This is a positive thing to me; it is useful information.
AND it made me and my daughter giggle ALOT.... which is also a good thing ;)

Clearly though, this is not why we were visiting the pediatrician.

Originally, I wrote a lot of details here. Details that were therapeutic to write. But I deleted them. Because I don't want to share all the details. And I don't want to explain or defend to anyone. What I will say is this:

Unschooling has allowed us to honor our daughters strengths, her gifts and talents. It has allowed her to develop a love of learning. It has allowed us to be together; to support her in whatever way we could see she needed. It allowed enough time to pass, for her to have the maturity she needed to recognize that she is facing some challenges and to know that she wanted help. She knows herself incredibly well; and thanks to unschooling she knows a ton about her own learning process; enough to know that she wanted to learn more about her own process; about what is and is not working for her.

The pediatrician has praised us for choosing to unschool. She said we have been doing exactly what was needed and was good for our daughter; and that she wanted us to continue to do more of what we have already been doing. I am thankful, and relieved. I have carried the useless fear that unschooling had somehow "caused" her to be having this struggle.....

Well, maybe it hasn’t been entirely useless. You see, some people have asked me if I think unschooling has “caused” any of "this"- which of course is ludicrous! I've had a lot of time to contemplate what this question is really saying! Having the freedom to explore one’s own interests; and learn in the way one is naturally inclined does not “cause” a neurological disorder. For this is exactly how most adults live; following their interests, learning about things as they feel is most beneficial for them. If the belief that unschooling causes this kind of damage was true; we would have a world full of adults with neurological disorders... (wait a minute, maybe we do! ;)

Sorry, I got off on a tangent there.... my point is, the fact that this ludicrous fear crossed my mind has kept me from really “loosing it” on a few people. Just to put that out there.

So yes, this is a challenging and stressful time. And yes, we are going to continue unschooling our son. And yes, I still believe unschooling is a fantastic option for families. And yes, I am writing all this about labels because I am tired of hearing about other people's crappy feelings about labels; and labels on children. Whatever diagnosis we come to, (which I probably won’t be sharing on here) isn’t going to change who we are as a family. It isn’t going to change who my daughter is; or how we feel about her. It is going to tell us a little bit more about who she is; what she is made of; where she is coming from. It is going to tell me more about how I can best be supportive and caring for her. And that is important information to me.

If you read this all the way to the end, thank you. And if you are one of the people in our life who has been supportive and kind, then thank you.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love you :) and things will work out :) sounds like you've thought about these ideas enough to gain positive-ness from them :D

  3. it is all going to be fine... and i love you too!