Pre-Mature Labels

What is normal? I’ve been on this quest for a long time now but a recent encounter with my son got me to really thinking about this question that I feel often plagues our society.

Let me begin.

Our children are over medicated and over labeled at such a young age. And if that pre-mature label is incorrect – what kind of teen and adult is our society raising?

At the beginning of this school year, my son, who is in Pre-K3 had the opportunity to be tested through the school for developmental delays through an outside, reliable company. I signed both children up – knowing something like this early can help move towards having a “normal” “mainstream” child.

Let me put a pin right there and say that I have an extremely hard time with words like “normal” and “mainstream” especially because of all of the different ways kids can be. As both a dance educator and a mother I always want to cultivate the child for where they are and who they are, not who society says they are.

I obviously have a hard time with these kinds of words.

But back to the testing. They tested both children. My oldest had no signs of developmental delays and my youngest came back with a very vague answer. That answer was summed up as “verbal developmental delay” and after talking with the lady and asking her a variety of questions – there was no real way to tell until he had further testing done. I immediately went to the teacher – asked her advice, and she and I both agreed that she would push him in class and we would push him at home and cultivate him into being what God wants him to be.

My Sammy

My Sammy

But let me backtrack. I work for the lovely Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center and work with children and adults with a variety of disabilities. I have friends and loved ones who have children with a variety of disabilities – and they have all taught me that sometimes their version of “normal” is way more normal than mine. I just tweeted this last week: “Remember that you are amazing just the way you are. If God wanted us all the same He would have made us that way.”

I know. I know. I could quote all of the many statistics out there about disabilities – about an epidemic of young boys on the autism spectrum. I write grants about it all day long, and am an advocate for these very intimate causes to my life, but here’s the real deal: our children are over medicated and over labeled at such a young age. And if that pre-mature label is incorrect – what kind of teen and adult is our society raising?

Here I am almost a year later – and they say nothing is wrong with my son at all. He’s learning rapidly and has completely caught up to what was deemed a slow start at the beginning of the year. But here’s my question – is that just the pace that he needed to learn? I know everyone has a job to do, but I’d sure like to see a little more balance in our diagnosis of kids.

katie slaton finalAnd finally, I want to introduce you to Katie. I met Katie in the fall of 2011 – I had recently lost my mom, I had re-located over 800 miles to my hometown from Philadelphia – and with a heavy heart and so many unanswered questions, my first teaching job was at Merrimack Hall with the children with special needs in the Johnny Stallings Arts Program. And one of the first kids I met was Katie.

She quickly taught me what was really important in life – and how not to ever let any dream die because of circumstances. Every day she came into class believing (to this day) that she is going to be a movie star, she’s constantly in a love-triangle (cute and simple, not tainted) with the many friends who love her infectious personality. And the sky is the limit for her – every day of her life.

And here I was complaining – about legitimate things nonetheless – but forgetting that every day I had a choice, just like she does. To get up, put my “big girl boots” on and choose life. And most importantly I had a decision to create what “normal” would look like for me and for my life. It may not line up exactly with what’s going on with the next person – but each and every day we have a choice to live for what we know is right – not what someone else thinks.

So here’s to “label-free” living. I don’t care what the outcome is, what has been said, I choose to believe that God wants Katie exactly the way she is, me the exact way I am, and you the exact way you are. Embrace it.

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