Friday, October 05, 2007


We are in the midst of the issue of medicalization and labeling, brought up nicely by VAB. Joey is not the child at issue here; there is no escaping the fact that Joey is autistic, and requires special supports to teach him to function and cope. Joey's communication issues and behavior clearly "mark" him in a crowd of non-autistic peers (though we sometimes have trouble with the special ed people forgetting that he is in need of service...) That the label of autism has been medicalized is another issue.

Then we have Andy. Andy is three years and four months old. He doesn't like loud noises or chaos, and displays "ritualisitic" behaviors when attempting to cope with noise. He flaps his hands when excited or agitated. He has stopped eating most foods. He prefers to keep his hands clean. Until a couple months ago, he would not jump or swing, or do things that required his feet to leave the floor. He hates to spin or go in circles, such as on a carnival ride.

Is Andy just a quirky three-year-old, taking his time an ddeveloping in his own way, or does he require a special label and special service?

Labels are a double-edged sword. Andy being labeled "sensory integration dysfunction" means we know he needs service. He needs speech therapy to make his language intelligible (and the therapy has been highly successful in this regard.) He gets OT for hyper-sensitivity issues (like the noise problem, and the vestibular issue). But how much does this child need to be medicalized beyond that?

It can be great fun to sit in the park and watch the children run about playing, and thinking about them with the labels that bounce around my house. Oh, look, that kid like to push the turnabout- heavy work for propioceptive input. That kid prefers to spin around on the swing, on his tummy- vestibular input. A child covers his ears when someone squeals. Another kid clearly prefers to play alone. One prefers the spring-riders. Another prefers slides. Some run, some climb, some like to be under the playset in the cozy spaces, others prefer to be out in the open. Some kids play in the dirt. OThers run their fingers through the pine needles. One kid squeaks and squawks to find a smudge upon their hand. Sensory issues. Motor issues. OCD issues. Communication issues.

And these are the "normal" kids.

There are so many characters out there today to remind us- and our kids- that "normal" is a relative term. Its a spectrum of experience, just like any other. Variance is normal. Being quirky, or even eccentric, is still OK, and has value. There is such a thing as "having character," and it is far more interesting than just being part of the common crowd. Gotta love "Runt of the Litter" from Chicken Little. How about Henry (or Daisy, for that matter) on Oswald? We could even bring up Dopey or Beaker. These characters aren't called "disabled." They are who they are, and fit into their worlds in their own ways. No medicalization required.


kristina said...

I find "normal" an increasingly less useful term---I suppose I ought just to say useless term. We are a household quirks and who knows what a "normal" child would say about all of us.

Chaoticidealism said...

Hey, a label's a tool--no more, no less. If he needs one to get the help he needs, then get him a label; if not, then don't!

Use the system; don't let the system use you (but then, as an autism parent, you know that already)!

Jen P said...

We never caught my son's or hub's AS and still struggle sometimes in accepting it because their quirks to me are normal and what makes them who they are and why I love them. I DO love that The Elder is in a special school and would be if he didn't have the label, but sometimes when he is doing something "aspergery" I almost want people to see him because it is so adorable and funny (expect biting of course). One mom told me that it gets old when at 10 he is still acting 4, but my hub is 36 and I still think his quirks are hilarious. That's normal to us.

Casdok said...

Well said!!

Niksmom said...

I agree with chaotic's comment about using the tools we have at our disposal. If a label will get Andy some additional support and you think he needs it, go for it. Of course, I think with him out of school and home with you, he may be getting more support and a better education than he would be in preschool!

Bonnie said...

I find my self doing the same thing at the park. Sometimes I feel like I have been sent to an alternate universe. My son's now 12, his labels have changed a couple of times, but who he is hasn't. ;-)