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Using Labels on Children

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: The school where my five-year-old son attends is confusing us. At one time they labeled him gifted and then later they suggested that he might be mildly autistic. He is a normal child in every way. Though he does not like rough play, he interacts well with children whose play is mild. He speaks very proper English and has been reading since he was two years old. What can we do?

A: What you must do is find out if your son has a problem or not. Who are the "they" who first labeled your child gifted then mildly autistic? Are they highly qualified professionals capable of making these diagnoses? Or are they teachers searching for a way to describe your child?

Autism typically appears during the first three years of life. Its symptoms and characteristics can vary from mild to severe. According to the Autism Society of America, children with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. For more information on autism, go online to the Autism Society of America website.

What was the criteria for calling your son gifted? Was it the result of an IQ score, or because he is far ahead of other children his age in specific areas of academic performance? Most gifted children learn to read easily, often before entering school, which your son accomplished. To learn more about giftedness, visit the National Association for Gifted Children website and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.

Many people don't realize that there are gifted students who have disabilities. In fact, this is a whole new area in the educational field. Educators are now trying to identify gifted students with specific disabilities and improve the interdisciplinary cooperation between the gifted and special education departments. Fortunately, gifted students with disabilities are not that common; however, they are two percent of the school population.

Your son may require more extensive services from the school in order to develop to his full potential. It is absolutely essential that you request in writing that the school evaluate him for learning disabilities. As the school will not be able to initiate the testing process until next year, you may wish to talk to your child's pediatrician now about the validity of the labels the school is assigning to your son.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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