Your Child Isn't a Box of Cereal!

– Label vs. Content

Has your child been given the label ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’?

There are more labels given to individuals than there are cereal brands. Have you been down the cereal isle of your local grocery store lately? New brands and flavors seem to pop up overnight. And at what seems to be the same rate, society continues to assign labels that can put individuals into boxes.

Labels do play a role in informing us. The name on a cereal box will typically give us some indication of what we will find inside. Cocoa Puffs yells chocolate, and Corn Flakes is self-descriptive. Yet some are more mysterious, such as, Captain Crunch, Trix, and Crazy Cow, until you read the ingredients.

Is that what is missing when it comes to people? A list of ingredients?

Someone may be referred to as a ‘nerd’, ‘loser’, ‘bi-polar’, ‘special needs’, ‘difficult’, ‘crazy’, ‘blind’, ‘transgender’, ‘Republican/Democrat’, or ‘autistic’ but that does not tell us what is inside. Until we stop and take the time to discover what characteristics and gifts make up the whole person, they may be thought of as just another ‘sugary’, ‘processed’, or ‘healthy’ cereal box on a shelf.

Children and the instructions on how to parent them do not come in cereal boxes. So instead of shopping for the new flavor of the month in your attempt to care for, teach, and seek treatment for your child, consider the following:

– Dig for the jewels. Always be curious enough to dig what is deep within. Once you do, you will unearth the prize that the box of cereal holds. Like the detailed ingredients on the cereal box, your child contains many parts that make up his entire being. It is very likely that your child has the ingredients for a gourmet recipe. If you dig deep enough you will uncover the buried treasure.

– Labels aren’t always all bad. Labels usually carry a negative stigma that can lead to stereotyping or discrimination. But in an educational setting a label can be a valuable piece of information. A label, or diagnosis, will help teachers and school staff prepare accordingly for a new student, especially when the label is for a rare disorder, like Williams Syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease. In this case, having a label enables school staff to look up and access important knowledge that will help meet the needs of the student as quickly as possible.

– To tell, or not to tell. There may be a time when your child wants to know what her diagnosis is. So begin now to lay the groundwork for the day she requests to learn, or you decide to tell her, what descriptor the medical community has given her. Don't wait for autism/Asperger's to become noticeable to your child or others. Doing so risks negatively altering your child's self-perception. Begin early to normalize challenges and remember to balance every one with a strength. Be mindful that language has power and begin to acquire a vocabulary that reflects positivity and self-worth.

Remember, just because your daughter has been given a label, it does not signify she is entitled to less. It’s important to think of it as a means to: - truly understand your child, as well as a way for your child to understand himself, - advocate for and receive the services your child is entitled to. ————– To learn how to make your child’s diagnosis work to her benefit in the school setting click here to access my new book, Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success.

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