When I was a young 20 something juvenile probation officer I was going to save the world, or at the very least, the kids on my caseload. With every kid that was re-arrested or shot (yes, shot...drug dealers have a high probability of being shot), I felt like a failure. How could a fresh out of college, childless, white, middle class, country girl not be able to save the day for these mostly impoverished, inner-city, multi-racial kids? It didn't make sense.
With each juvenile's re-arrest came the initial police report detailing the new charges of my latest failure. Quickly following the police report came the psychological evaluation with what appeared to be the current vogue, flavor of the month label. Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Personality Disorder, Conduct Disorder, etc. One report with numerous labels sticks out in my mind quite vividly even today, 15 years later. The report was for a 12 year old boy who had molested a 4 year old girl. This boy's psych report had many labels, but the one that was missing was "monster". I read all those labels stuck on this boy by super smart people and I read the details of that awful police report written by the investigators who had interviewed the victim and I made up my mind before ever laying eyes on him. This kid was a lost cause and I was not looking forward to meeting him. When I heard the secure door to the detention center open for my first meeting with this boy, I prepared myself for a cyclop monster with snakes for hair, but there before me stood the cutest, politest, 12 year old boy I have ever had the privilege to meet. This child was not a monster, but a kid who was abused himself and ended up repeating a vicious, horrible cycle that he had been exposed to most of his childhood. Of course, this wasn't discovered until much later when he was in treatment, when people stopped worrying about the labels stuck on the outside and took the time to discover what was on the inside.
Labels can be dangerous when placed in judgemental hands and I can AWEnestly say it sucks when you are on the other side of that label. When it's your kid with a label attached to his name while others make assumptions based on kids bearing a similar label they have seen before. I think this is called karma. With my background and experience you can imagine my reluctance to share Ryan's diagnosis. Just like my son is more than a number, he is more than a label. At the start of each school year, I met with Ryan's teacher and discussed his strengths, his weaknesses and what made him unique. I also shared his "label", but it was years before I handed over THE evaluation with the offical diagnosis school wide. I have no regrets. In fact, just two weeks ago, the EXACT reason I didn't share his report sat right next to me at Ryan's 504 Meeting.
A 504 Plan basically provides Ryan with accommodations in the classroom without the need of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), thus keeping him from wearing yet another label, Special Education Student. One day he may need that label, but so far he has not. My first several 504 meetings I would cry as soon as I stepped into the conference room and I would cry pretty much throughout the entire meeting. Oh, how times have changed. In Ryan's most recent 504 update, I sat beside my former, young, inexperienced, change the world self and I wanted to slap me. Having never met my son, she quickly made assumptions based on his initial psychological evaluation, his 504 accommodations from years past and his PSSA scores and within 5 minutes this young, former version of myself quickly deduced Ryan should be re-evaluated "just in case" he would need the autistic support classroom next year? Hold the phone! Ryan has never needed anything more than some extra time with longer tests and some prompts in writing, he was meeting or exceeding 5th grade standards at the beginning of the school year and he is "mastering" or "developing proficiency with steady progress" on his report card (whatever happened to A's and B's?), but since the middle school has 35 kids in a class, let's just assume he is going to struggle and prepare to have him placed in the autism support classroom, I mean after all, he has the label, right? Not on my watch.
When my old BFF, Denial took a hike, I had her take Wussy Mom with her. I no longer cry at those meetings, like a mama bear, I protect, advocate and fight for my son and someone made the costly mistake of taking a stroll between this mama bear and my cub. With proclamations of wanting what was best for Ryan, a child she never met, this former version of myself drew conclusions and made wrongful assumptions faster than you can say Prada. Her actions spoke only of concerns for the teachers, not my son. She was the EXACT reason we waited to share Ryan's label and she reminded me that once again, as his mother, I did the right thing. This woman saw the Gucci label and she had already determined what that Gucci bag should look like. Well, guess what former self, Gucci bags come in all shapes and sizes, some have buckles and zippers, some are over the shoulder bags and some are clutch. Some are every day and some are red carpet only. The Gucci label does not make them all the same.