Labels and Categories of Exceptionalities
Can using labels and categories of exceptionality help move towards a more inclusive educational environment? Why are such labels important and needed by teachers? What are some of the issues with these labels of categorization?
When approaching the topic of labels and categories, I have conflicting feelings and opinions. Labels are used to help classify specific characteristics and behaviours as they relate to exceptionalities. This helps educators understand, predict, and support behaviours that are associated with the label given. I believe the main positive aspect of labels and categories is the understanding that follows. When educators are open to exploring the “background story” of their students, they begin to develop empathy and move towards a place of acceptance.
I have experienced situations where labels have either benefited or disadvantaged the person being labelled. Some students who have been given a label feel as though there is a neon light hanging above them with the name of that label; they feel as though that is all they are known as and are ostracized or viewed differently because of that. On the other hand, my cousin had been going through a very difficult time as a student both academically and socially, and was further conflicted because she didn’t know “why” she was different. When we eventually sought support and received her “label”, she felt as ease knowing that there was community of other students who were having similar experiences.
Last summer, I attended a conference with Community Living Cambridge where Norman Kunc delivered a keynote address about being different and how to support individuals who require it. Together with his wife, he created a Credo for Support which addresses how some people react to the labels and differences of others, and how you should respond instead. I highly suggest giving it a read here: http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/pcsdp-cpmcph/pdf/docs/CredoforSupport.pdf
When we make an effort to get to know each student on an individual basis, the label starts to dissolve and the true person comes into existence. Labels may help with the initial understanding of the student, but when we get to know them personally and are able to meet their needs, that is an inclusive education environment.