Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Labels, Love and the Family Environment

                                             Autism's First Child Donald Triplett  (click for link to video)

by Linda Shaw 
In 1943 Donald Triplett, of Forest Mississippi became the first child to be diagnosed with Austism. His parents chose to not only accept him as he was, but created a hometown environment of love and friendship that refused (even at age 77) to allow others to misinterpret or misrepresent him or his "oddity." 

The scientific study of psychology is relatively new. It was organized only as recently as 1879 in Europe (University of Leipzip) and 1883 in America (John Hopkins University). In more recent years psychologists have categorized children’s behavior with greater detail and labels such as Aspergers, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Autism, Learning Disabled (LD), have been added to a growing list of psychological behaviors.  

Why are these labels important?

In complex social environments psychological labels help educators, physicians, families and communities gain a deeper understanding of the human experience.

Labels or the categorization of behaviors can: 

  • Teach self-awareness 
  • Teach self- discipline 
  • Identify genetic dispositions
  • Prevent situations or environments based on misconceptions
  • Identify ability
  • Identify appropriate teaching methods 
  • Identify appropriate communication tactics
  • Advocate respectful attitudes  
  • Build self-esteem
  • Create safe boundaries
  • Increase expectations
  • Allow for group socialization and support 
  • Identify family genetics  
Labels help professionals and family members find greater understanding. They offer insight into how the child perceives the world thus improving communication.  When understood and used with love, labels can reduce frustration and help build self-esteem. Labels can help children safely explore the boundaries of both expectations and limitations. 

Why not labels? 

Many families, students, and educators have difficulty accepting labels. A few things to consider about labels: 

  • Diagnosis are not Universal. It has been said that if you meet one child with Aspergers you have met one child with Aspergers. 
  • Misinformation causes miscommunication and misunderstanding
  • Over-Diagnosis - It's the current trend to have ADHD. Could it really be so prevalent? 
  • Over Prescription of medications. One medication leads to another which may lead to yet another..etc.
  • Limitation - A risk to grouping by commonality is that you group students who are more different than alike.
  • Self Prophecy - Labels may cause a child to focus on certain aspects of their personality at the expense of others. 
In the Donald Triplett story, his parents took him to many different experts. In the end, rather than trying to fix him, they accepted his unique gifts and worked with his hometown community to ensure him a safe social experience.  I was impressed that when the authors of the Atlantic Story were doing their research they were "promised" that if they did anything to hurt Mr. Triplett, it would come back to haunt them. It was obvious that a great deal of respect, love, and admiration existed for this "first child" of autism. 

What can families do? 
When I watched and listened to this story, I was overcome with the feeling of love that Mr. Triplett's family had for him. They confronted his issues by gaining an education from the best doctors of the time. They reevaluated him as knowledge and perceptions changed. They elevated their love by creating a circle of love for him that extended throughout their community. If other's felt that Mr. Triplett's behavior was odd, they learned to accept it as his "norm". He was praised for his abilities, protected from exploitation, given opportunity for new experience, shown kindness, given the hope of realistic expectations, and accepted for who he was. In essence his family created for him an environment of love where his self esteem and self image were above the scientific definition. His self image has not been defined by his diagnosis, it has rather been honed by it. 

If today he has quirks, he does not allow them to interfere with his travels, his friends, or his "golf game."  His family taught all of us of how family can bring the love and understanding that science cannot bring. It can create an environment where love is given priority. All children deserve to be seen mainly through the prescription of  "family love." 

Donvan, By John, and Caren Zucker. "Autism’s First Child - Magazine - The Atlantic." The Atlantic News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Food – Oct. 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. .



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