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Is There a Problem with Labeling Students?

Is there a problem with labeling students? What is a label? How do labels affect us? What is the purpose of a label?

What do I know about labeling students?

I am a school psychologist. My primary role is to conduct evaluations to determine if certain students are eligible for special education.

To be eligible, a student must meet the criteria for one (or more) of 14 disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Problem with Labeling Students

If they do not meet criteria one (or more) of the 14 disabilities, they cannot receive specialized education support.

This is unfortunate because not all children fit into an exact category. However, if we can’t find one to fit, they won’t qualify for services.

Why do we have labels?

Labels drive services.

Without “labels” students cannot get special education services in school. This is similar to how clients cannot get therapy in the community without a diagnosis.

Hundreds of thousands of students in the US alone need support services.

To provide some examples, some children need support to improve their speech. Others need guidance on how to handle their emotions.

Some students need out-of-the-box strategies to learn to read or write. Some need help understanding math.

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Educational agencies and insurance companies will not pay for services or therapies unless the individual is identified with a condition, disability, etc.

Labels were developed partially out of convenience.

It is much easier to say a child has ADHD, than to say they have trouble focusing during lengthy verbal lessons, often lose their belongings, and seem to need to move more than the average child.

It is much easier to say that a child has autism spectrum disorder than to say that they communicate and socialize in a different way than their peers. Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it needs to be the only way.


Is there a problem with labeling students?

The need to label students is a dilemma that weighs on my personal and professional values. Why do require a label for a child to get help? Can’t a student receive support based on what they need?

Naturally, parents don’t want their children labeled.

Parents want their children recognized for who they are as an individual, with their unique set of strengths and needs.

Unfortunately, a child will not get additional documented and monitored support, unless we figure out what to “label” their needs.

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What is the difference between an educational classification and a diagnosis?

Although we hear the term label, educational classifications and diagnoses are the technical terms.

When a child has one or more of the 14 disabilities under IDEA, it is called an educational classification, not a diagnosis.

Diagnoses are given outside of the school by pediatricians, child psychologists, pediatric neurologists, etc.

Educational classifications are given in school after an evaluation by a school psychologist, speech pathologist, etc.

An educational classification makes a student eligible for special education services.

This means that the school must create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to address the student’s unique set of educational needs.

Your child is amazing just as they are.

Insurance and educational agencies have determined that we need “labels” to provide services.

Getting a classification or diagnosis does not change anything about your child. It only means that they can now access services or therapy to help them progress in their areas of need.

Your child is not defined by a classification or diagnosis. They are the same wonderful child you have always known and loved.

Do labels need to remain a requirement in schools?

If a child struggles in math, reading, behavior, or any other area, why do they need an “educational classification” to get services?

Can we service them based on their specific set of needs? In reality, not every child meets the criteria for a specific classification. However, if we don’t “classify” them they can’t get needed support.

Some parents hold off on evaluations because of the stigma attached to labels such as autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities. They are concerned about how it may impact their child socially, emotionally, etc.

If we take away the need for a label, we remove this barrier to getting supports for children.

cheerful black teacher with diverse schoolkids

As of now, “labels” remain a requirement in the United States in order to get services, therapies, etc.

If you’re not concerned that your child needs support and their behaviors/symptoms are manageable, then there is no need for them to get an evaluation or a label (educational classification).

Education and Behavior – Keeping adults on the same page for kids!

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