To Label or Not To Label Kids with Special Needs

by Feb 3, 2022Special Needs Parenting0 comments

Guest blogger Lisa Pelissier discusses the pros and cons of whether to label or not to label kids with special needs.

To label or not to label kids with special needs is a dilemma for many parents. Guest blogger Lisa Pelissier takes readers through the pros and cons of labeling, and her son provides a wise and unique perspective regarding the subject.

As the mother of three children with (mostly) invisible disorders, sometimes I wonder if I’ve done the right thing by labeling them: autistic, OCD, selectively mute, bipolar, PANS. The list goes on. I have known people who have shunned labels, trying to avoid the stigma and make their children feel more “normal”. Labels are limits, they say regarding the decision to label or not to label kids with special needs. Who is right?

What are the pros and cons of labeling?

1) Labeling is the key to getting services. Without a label, you can’t get the therapy and accommodations your child needs.

2) Labeling helps teachers and others in authority understand why a child is behaving the way they are. It helps them know how to work with the child instead of insisting on a one-size-fits-all behavior policy.

3) Labeling helps neurodivergent children find their peers. For my son, knowing he is autistic has helped him find others who think the way he does.

4) Labeling can be a relief for the child. They already know they’re different. A label can help them understand why and can help them understand that their differences are not personal failings, but medical diagnoses.

5) Labeling arranges kids in larger groups: the autistic, the mentally ill, etc., and larger groups get things like funding, accommodations, and scientific studies.

1) A label could limit expectations. If someone has an idea that “autistic people can’t…” then there are some traits they will never be able to see in your child.

2) A label could narrow your view of your child so that the label is the first thing you see. Instead of understanding that your child’s problems may be caused by sin, by personality, or by outside factors, it’s easy to write off misbehavior or other quirks as “just the autism” or “just the anxiety”. (Been there, done that.)

3) Labels focus on deficiencies, not strengths. They point to a child and say, “This is what the problem is.”

4) Some disabilities are stigmatized, especially mental illness. When you mention that your child has depression or anxiety, people assume things—your child lacks faith or they’re not trying hard enough to conquer their problems. And they assume things about your parenting—maybe you’re abusive or neglectful.

I had a long conversation with my autistic son (he does not prefer the person-first language of “my son with autism”) about autism and whether it’s right to label or not to label kids with special needs. His take on it was perfect. He reminded me that there is no such thing as a “label”.

“It’s a diagnosis, Mom. A medical diagnosis.”

Pretending someone doesn’t need a medical diagnosis when there is a problem is the heart of stigmatization. You wouldn’t ignore a label for a child with diabetes or a child with arthritis. Diagnoses of mental illness or neurological problems are the same. The stigma against neurological and mental health conditions relies on the idea that these conditions are character flaws or spiritual deficits, rather than differences in brain chemistry. “Autism,” he said, “isn’t really a problem for me. Neurotypical people who expect me to be just like they are… that’s the problem.”

By Lisa Pelissier

Lisa Pelissier lives in Oregon where she is a homeschooling mother of four (three with disabilities) and author of three middle-grade fiction novels. Lisa owns SneakerBlossom Books, offering Christian, classical homeschool Study Guides and curriculum. She also works as a freelance copy editor, an artist, and a tutor. In her spare time Lisa enjoys playing the piano and fretting about things over which she has no control. Email Lisa at or connect on Facebook.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



Stairlifts Reviews 100 Best Disability Blogs

EZ Socks

Our kids socks and toddler underwear have Ez pull-up loop technology that will help your child learn to dress themselves.

Portable Sleep Bed for Special Needs

Safe Place are portable, inflatable beds for special needs loved ones at home or away that provide a safe sleeping solution

Subscribe for Updates from Jolene

Related Posts