The significance of seeing children and young people for who they are (interests, likes and dislikes) is paramount and leads us into the critical discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of labelling.
Labels have been associated with the allocation of additional resources such as funding for additional adults in the classroom or placement in special schools. It is suggested that a label may provide an insight into how to plan a learning opportunity, provide a signpost to acknowledged good practice guidelines that facilitate access to curriculum areas and address social and emotional needs. Lauchlan and Boyle (2007:36) cite the example of providing a highly structured and clear routine for a child with Asperger syndrome.
Central to the debate is the focus of the intervention. Consideration needs to be given to the underlying motivation. For example: is the intervention a response to the individual needs of the learner or is the intervention dictated by the label? Is this a prescriptive approach to responding to labels or premised on the understanding that children and young people are individuals with diverse learning requirements? This debate relates to the notion of person-centred approaches, explored in Topic 5, and a personalized response to the specific needs of the learner. The table below is adapted from the article written by Lauchlan and Boyle (2007: 36-42) and summarises the key arguments and counter-arguments for labelling.
|Labels provide a shared language for practitioners in the multi-disciplinary context.||Labels stay with an individual across the life course and can perpetuate social exclusion.|
|Additional resources allocated to meet need and/or placement in a special school.||Stereotyping and generalizations.|
|An understanding of the learning difference for the child and the family.||Misdiagnosis.|
|Positive social identity.||Focus on ‘within child deficits’.|
|Potentially lowered expectations.|
|Impact on self-efficacy and well-being.|
|Derogatory language and bullying.|
An acknowledged disadvantage is the focus on ‘within child deficits’ which reflect the medical model of disability. In complying with the legislative framework for equality (external link), a label may be the evidence that triggers the additional support and reasonable adjustments. Thereby, if labels continue to be embedded within legislation, as Lauchlan and Boyle (2007: 36–42) suggest, then the emphasis needs to be on empowering learners to improve outcomes and opportunities.
Within the context of your own practice consider the labels that are identified. How do these labels influence your practice and perception of learning differences?