Our society has a
tendency to direct its attention to labels, in other words, a way to describe and identify a group of people. Individuals with special needs are subjected to labeling that involves every aspect of their life, may it be education, healthcare, travel, etc. I find that until everyone has a personal connection or relationship with someone who has special needs, we will continue to hear these labels and see focus magnified on their disabilities, and less interest spent on their strengths. Labels can tear down any possibility of productivity in involving different groups of people in our community. Labels lead to stereotypes and stereotypes then lead to discrimination. Discrimination can lead to bullying and the denial of rights that others have access to in this society.
In 2008, I was on the phone in a local department store discussing my son's ABA program. During the discussion, I mentioned the word "autism" several times. After I was off the phone, someone who worked at the store struck up a conversation with me saying, "I heard that you have a child with autism. I used to be a teacher and have experience working with the autistics." I thought to myself, "The autistics? That sounds like a punk rock band." In my head I hear a voice, "Ladies and Gentleman, singing their new song 'Stimming in the USA', it's The Autistics!" Of course, my son would be the drummer.
After briefly drifting from the conversation, I tried to gently correct her by saying, "Oh, you mean children who happen to have autism."
It is evident that labels are everywhere and one does not understand how debilitating a label can be if there are negative connotations to it, until it happens to them. Frankly, children with autism are children first who happen to have autistic characteristics. They have likes and dislikes and they can hurt and feel misunderstood, just like any other child. In the end, choosing the label "the autistics" is just another way to attempt to dehumanize these individuals making it easier for society to discriminate against them.
Last week, the angst and frustration with labels came back as I learned what terminology TRICARE has chosen in discussing tutors in their Demonstration Project. The Demonstration Project is TRICARE's attempt to provide ABA services to active duty military families through the use of tutors overseen by BCBA's, a common use of care with many insurance companies. …