Sunday, March 23, 2014

Throwing away the labels

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed how there seems to be an increase in the number of people identified as being autistic. Any number of theories have posited as to why this may be. I'm not going into that today. I'm looking at a slightly different angle.

A while back, you might have seen this TED talk by Jacob Barnett. Let me refresh your memory:

I hope you found that inspiring (and a little challenging). But, had it not been for his mother, this lad might never have even be able to function in a socially acceptable 'normal' way. Here's some insight into how this woman threw away the labels, rejected the professional prognoses and adopted a child-led approach to learning.

You might notice during the video clip in the link, that Jacob appears to be slightly uncertain as to how to hold himself when he is being spoken about, but not spoken to. But there is nothing about him that announces that he is a person with 'learning disability' or a 'special need'. In fact, I'd say he's a lot less socially awkward than most fifteen year olds!

I have observed in my own sons - and in myself, truth be told - some markers of the autistic spectrum. None of us has ever been formally diagnosed (or even assessed), but none of us fitted comfortably into the educational model. I only wish I had had this woman's courage when it would have made a difference. In the absence of that, may I encourage parents not to allow labels to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Not everyone can go on to win a Nobel Prize, or even to be predicted to win one. But wouldn't life be so much more fulfilling if we were able to explore the thing that lights the spark in our eyes, rather than the thing some official board says we need to know? 

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