Fear of LabelsOur 8 year old daughter, Matilda, started Cubs recently. She was super excited and we were very proud that she not only wanted to get involved in this social activity, but that she appears to be doing well with all the other kids. Not unusual for an 8 year old, but we always enter into these things with some trepidation as she has aspergers and sometimes things don’t always go exactly as we, she or others would expect them to. But she is doing well.

When it came time to fill in the enrollment forms, however, I had to pause. “Does your child have a disability that could affect their participation in activities?” We have two children with ASD and we don’t think of either of them having a disability. However, it can affect the way they participate in some activities, sometimes. To be honest, our son needs a lot more support in social situations than Matilda, but here I was, filling out a form and wondering to myself, “Do I tell them?”

My reticence comes from a fear of labels, I suppose. When I was a kid my mum told the preschool that I had an allergy to chocolate. Fair enough. But when Easter rolled around, everyone got Easter eggs, except me. I got nothing. Now, the preschool was doing the right thing, but no accommodation was made for my special needs, I was just left out because I was labelled as different. Do not participate in chocolate!

You tell someone your kid is different in some way and you fear they will be treated differently. Sometimes this is okay, or necessary. Our son has a vision impairment, so calling out “Heads up!” and tossing a ball at him is probably a bad idea!  At other times, however, you just want your child to fit in without any special attention, or any excuses being made for their behavior or actions. I don’t know about you, but I have been guilty of making excuses for my own children or the children of others because of some label attached to them. I try not to do it, but it is subconscious sometimes. I guess that is what I am trying to avoid or minimise for Matilda.

I chose not to put down ASD on the Cubs enrollment form. Matilda had been to several events to try things out already without any problem or incident. I don’t think her aspergers will stop her participating in any activity that the Cubs do. In fact, last week she went out to the local shopping center with them and sold raffle tickets to strangers for two hours. I sat in a nearby coffee shop and watched with pride – she was braver than I ever was as a kid! Funny end to this story, though; while at the shopping centre one of the Cub leaders mentioned to me that Matilda was walking on her toes a lot and that they had another child in the group who did that and they had…

This week Matilda is being formally invested into the Cubs – she will get her scarf and badges and become an official member of the troop. I was a Cub Scout and I am really looking forward to seeing Matilda enjoying the experiences that I had as a kid. I am looking forward to seeing her try new things, make new friends, fail miserably at tying knots (c’mon, I can’t be the only one in the family who can’t do it!) and just getting involved as another member of the Scout movement.

What are your thoughts on labels and kids? Have you ever been labelled, for good or bad?

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Nathan