“Tell me, who is the taller boy in this picture?” she asked, expectantly.
My nearly 3-year old looked at her with his big puppy dog eyes, and stayed silent.
He doesn’t know what tall or short means, I fume silently.
“What is this?” she shows him a hairbrush.
Another silent look.
I should have taught him what a hairbrush was. Although we’ve never used one.
My heart sank to my feet.
Then, more of the same. Inability to identify certain objects. But he can match all 12 colors and know all their names. He’s not jumping high enough in the air for her liking, but he can count to 20.
After a rushed two-hour “evaluation”, this doctor, a child development specialist (I think, she never gave me her business card), operating out of our pediatrician’s office as a side job, told my husband and I that our son, was “on the spectrum”. That his language skills was that of an 12 month old, but his visual learning skills is off the charts at 4 years. That because he couldn’t hold a pencil the way he “should”, his something-or-the-other capacity is only at 2 years. That because he likes to “line things up”, he’s not a normal nearly 3-year old.
Every question she asked sounded leading.
How does he react to loud noises? He puts his hands over his ears. But so do I!
Was he a difficult baby? Yes, he was a poor sleeper, but he’s been sleeping fine since he was 18 months old!
Did you have postpartum complications? Yes, severe bleeding. But what does this have to do with my son?
Any family history of epilepsy? Yes, a cousin, but no one else and she’s fine now. Again, what??
How does he play with toy cars? He likes to spin the wheels continuously. But he also rolls them across the floor!
Does he stare off into the distance? Not often, sometimes. But who doesn’t? Isn’t that daydreaming?
Is he a picky eater? Yes, very. But we thought that was normal?
Every conclusion she came to, I wanted to jump in and tell her that she was wrong.
We walked out, stunned. All we thought was that he had a speech delay.
Instead, we came home with a “on the spectrum” label, and orders to get him occupational therapy (“To do what? Learn how to hold a pencil?” my husband exclaimed to me in disbelief. For the record, he can hold a pencil.), and speech therapy.
Let me tell you something, labels are bullshit.
At this juncture, I need to say that I am not disrespecting parents of special needs children, or the children themselves. I am not being defensive of my child (“He’s not on the spectrum!”) because I cannot accept reality. If my son has autism, or is on the spectrum, or has a learning disability, I will be in his corner. I will be his advocate, I will do everything in my power to help him succeed, I am his mother.
But, we don’t believe that he is. Yes, he has some speech challenges, yes he has some quirks (which up until then, we thought were just toddler quirks – because what toddler doesn’t like to line stuff up?), yes he doesn’t know the word for that thing you use to brush hair with, because no one owns that in this house (yes, I haven’t brushed my hair in 7 years, don’t judge) and no one told him what it was.
It doesn’t give some doctor – one who appeared to have preconceived notions of a child she’d never met – a right, in two hours, to tick off some boxes on a piece of paper, and slap a label on my child. Throughout the session, I was uncomfortable with her questions – the way she asked them, the way she seemed to be digging for specific answers, the way she refused to let us speak to put into context some of the answers to her questions.
So I’m taking this label off my child.
We recognize some of the issues he has, and we are addressing them. Without the label.
Because he is my son. He is a person. He is not a bloody label.
* He started preschool shortly after this evaluation, and he’s been doing very well. We’re still working on the talking thing, and he has a way to go, but it’s progress.
** I understand that in some countries, giving a diagnosis or a label as I called it, is necessary to move the child onto necessary treatment and therapy. In Malaysia though, it does not work that way. Everything here is private – you want a speech therapist, Google one you can afford, call them up and set up an appointment. Period. There is no follow up, no mandatory testing, no subsidized therapies, nothing. It’s all up to the parents.
Have you or your child ever struggled with an unfair label? How did you address it?