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Labels Good or Bad

02 Mar

Labels Good or Bad

Posted By: 
Tamra Excell

Are labels useful or harmful? This is a question posed to me after a recent panel on neurodiversity. It’s a commonly-asked one and, I think, an important one.

Having a name for an orientation, condition, or preference can give a sense that one isn’t alone. A sense of belonging.  If there is a name for it, then that could mean there are others who are similar. It can be affirming, giving a reason for certain challenges, and hopefully highlighting the benefits too.

This same label can provide something to search for on Google, to read up on in the research, or to locate meet-ups or groups with others who wear this same label. It gives a place to start.

These are all good reasons for discovering and using a label. However, we need to be careful. No matter the label, each person is unique - made up of more than just this one thing! A label might even be temporary. It might also be incorrect or need to be paired with certain other traits to play out a particular way.

The examples are numerous. A student showing a strong preference for certain learning styles/preferences should not be limited to just those styles. A person labeled with Asperger’s will not usually show all of the traits associated with being Aspie. A person who is brilliant in playing music is not automatically destined to perform publicly; the threat of such a performance might even be a hindrance to learning.

Another thing that can happen is making excuses or dehumanizing somebody with a label: “Oh you are just [insert label], so I will dismiss your voice on this issue.” It is also insulting to tell others what they are or are not capable of, or explain to them how/what they are as if they themselves have no clue.  This and other forms of ableism abound.

So are labels useful or harmful?

A label carefully being used for research, affirmation, and communication is a useful thing.  However, don’t take an outside-the-box person and shove him or her into yet another box. Toss the box. Keep things open, and above all, maintain respect.

Do you have any labels attached to you? How do you feel about these labels? What can you do to avoid a box and instead make your own way?