Shapes and Labels

I’m an educator and musician. I know from my experience that seeing shapes and noticing patterns is how children – and grown-ups – make sense of the world, and an important part of seeing and noticing is knowing the labels that belong to these shapes and patterns: once you know what a pentagon¬†is you start to see them everywhere; knowing they are called pentagons means you can talk about them. Without that label ‘pentagon’ all the pentagons of the world merge with all the other unmentionable polygons of the universe in the arena of what-we-cannot-discuss.

I’m an advocate for students developing vocabularies about what they experience right from the start – no avoiding technical terms, no preservation of a mythical linguistic ‘innocence’. If the child is interested enough to want to talk about something they will learn how to say its name: exhibit A – hippopotamus.

Equally, I’m an advocate for not prescribing or limiting how children can perceive the world: correcting a child’s perceptions prevents the adult from learning about the structures the child has already conceived of – exploring a child’s perceptions is more joyous response and results in more learning, for everyone. Children operate quite logically, and if we can’t see the logic it’s not that it isn’t there, it’s that we haven’t figured it out yet.

And, as of nearly five years ago, I’m also a parent, the mother of a gorgeous little boy who has intrigued and delighted us since his arrival in the first quarter of 2007. He’s starting school this year, ahead of the game in some ways (able to read, to spell, to count beyond 100 and back again) and behind in others (following instructions, doing what the group does, making friends). The discrepancy between the ahead and the behind is certainly sufficient for him to be classified as ‘special needs’ and we know we are on the verge of a capital D diagnosis.

We’re going to learn that our son is Gifted, and we’re going to be told that he is somewhere on the Asperger’s end of the Autism Spectrum. We’ve seen enough specialists (and enough specialists have seen us) to know that this is what is coming.

It will be a relief. And it will be somewhat devastating. It will challenge who we think we are as a family, and it will confront the way my husband and I engage in our parenting. It will make us examine our own childhoods, and it will give us permission (just that little bit) to feel as exhausted by parenting as we really are.

And then there is the terror that the labels my son is given will prevent people from seeing his real dimensions, the fear that maybe labels will prevent him from knowing himself without overwhelming self-consciousness. The usual parenting anxieties as experienced through the lens of designated difference.

This blog is this story. Thank you for having me, and welcome.

 

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