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self-esteemHave you noticed that special needs diagnoses have negative terms like deficit, hyperactive, pervasive, disorder, and syndrome? Would having these terms used to describe you help or hinder your self-esteem? How do you think it makes our children feel?

The reality is that these terms are “correct” medical terms. These terms are the words documented on medical records that follow our children throughout their lives.  Is it any wonder that our children struggle with self-esteem when they hear these labels applied to them?

Community View of Labels

I know many parents and adults with various diagnoses are moving away from using these clinical terms.  Over the years, I have witnessed groups arguing over whether we should use person first or diagnosis first.  Let’s pause for a moment and ask, does this argument ultimately help our children? It certainly does not change the way medical professionals chart, nor does it change the way medical coding is implemented.

Focus on the Strengths

Temple Grandin expressed concern with labeling our children. She voices fear that labels are holding back “really smart kids.”  Grandin offers helpful advice for educating autistic kids in a positive manner:

You have a child who loves basketball.

Use that interest, basketball, to inspire your child to read by finding books about basketball.  Expand upon their interest by getting them to read more about a favorite player, then the players hometown, home state, the history of basketball, etc.

Use that special interest to enhance math skills by keeping score of games, calculating player averages, etc. (1,2)

Labels and Harm

When my child became a teenager, she no longer wanted to be labeled.  Frankly, I saw her point. Long before the last diagnosis which brought us much understanding into her isms, previous doctors misdiagnosed her.  These misdiagnoses caused emotional harm and injured her fragile ego.

The steady stream if misdiagnoses created an erosion of trust in doctors.  That erosion of trust then expanded to her parents. The misdiagnoses  contributed to her poor self-esteem, as we parents listened to and followed inappropriate advice.  In turn, teachers and others misjudged her based on these misdiagnosed labels.

See Beyond the Label

That earlier experience does not mean I no longer have faith in doctors.  It does not mean that I no longer see the need for getting a diagnosis.  There are countless children who receive much needed services that do indeed help them.  But keep in mind, even these children are at risk for low self-esteem. Therefore, I ask you to see beyond the label.

Support and build up a child’s self-esteem by avoiding labels as much as possible.  If you must use a label, use a more positive label whenever possible.

For instance, if you have a child diagnosed with autism, point out each and every one of your child’s strengths. You might say

“you are a gifted artist” or

“you are a talented musician” or

“you are an amazing thinker, I love the way your mind works”.

Explore More >> 9 Ways Your Child can Soar via their Strengths

Simple Tips to Build Self-Esteem

Carve Out Quality Time

Spend quality time with your children. Turn off that smart phone and really listen to your child.

Learn more about the things that interest your children.  Let your children teach you something new.

Explore More >>  Detect & Harness Your Child’s Special Interests

Self-Esteem: Display Confidence & Boost Confidence

Gain Sensory Input During Family Time

The Family Garden: A Harvest of Good Times

Dole Out Chores

Give children chores that they can accomplish and praise them when they do. (3)

Explore More >> Learning Independence – A Personal Perspective

Become an Advocate

Help your child succeed at school by being an involved parent.  For example, one simple concept is to ensure the classroom environment is a good fit for your child.  If it’s not a good fit, work with the school to create a better fit. (4)

Explore More >> Learn to Advocate for Your Child

Never Negate Self-Care

Take care of your own self-esteem.  When you are at your strongest, you are better able to take care of your child’s self-esteem.

Explore More >> Manage Mom’s Emotional Health

The main take-away is to avoid allowing labels to define your child. Remember, each and every child is unique.  Always see your child’s strengths and potential and help others to see it too!  Special-Ism’s motto is “Special-Ism, where an ism is a challenge, not a label.”


(1) Grandin, Temple. “Temple Grandin Reveals Her Advice for Educating Autistic Kids.” Yahoo News. Take Part, 15 Aug. 2012. Web. 5 June 2016.

(2) Hatch, Rachel. “News & Events.” Illinois Wesleyan: Temple Grandin Says Look Beyond the Labels of Autism. N.p., 10 Sept. 2008. Web. 05 June 2016.

(3) Rock, Amanda. “Why Preschoolers Should Do Chores.Verywell. N.p., 16 June 2015. Web. 05 June 2016.

(4) Winter, Judy. “Special Education Issues: Hurtful Words about Disabilities – EduGuide.” Special Education Issues: Hurtful Words about Disabilities – EduGuide. EduGuide, n.d. Web. 05 June 2016.