We've Come A Long Way, And This Is Why I Don't Mind Labels

by Whitney Fleming
Whitney Fleming

This is my 12-year-old daughter.

At 16 months, she entered early intervention therapy. Her “diagnosis” was low tolerance to frustration and poor communications skills. She had poor eye contact and her play development was not on track. They labeled her “Potentially on the Spectrum,” but they were not sure.

At 2 years old, she began occupational therapy and physical therapy for poor motor planning, and we upped her speech therapy to twice a week. They labeled her with “Apraxia,” but they did not think that was a complete diagnosis.

At 3 1/2 years old, we took her to a pediatric neurologist based on a recommendation from our doctor. He labeled her with “Dyspraxia.” He told us with intensive therapy, she may be able to live a normal life one day.

At 4 years old, we were told we were in denial about our daughter. An expert told me, “She is clearly on the autistic spectrum.” She wanted to label her “PDD-NOS.” I wanted a diagnosis, but because she had intense relationships with her family, I knew this was not accurate.

At almost 5 years old, we took her to an orthopedic surgeon, since years of physical therapy, shoe inserts and casts did not help her extreme toe walking. He labeled her with “Cerebral Palsy,” which was a good fit, but the diagnosis was inconclusive on an MRI.

We decided on an aggressive treatment where the doctor would elongate her Achilles tendons and then reattach them. She wore a purple cast on one leg and a pink one on the other for seven weeks, and then was in physical therapy for the next 18 months to learn how to walk properly, as well as occupational therapy for fine motor control and speech therapy.

Because my daughter could now walk on her flat feet with balance, she could focus on such things as eye contact, maintaining conversations, and increasing her vocabulary. She was less frustrated, could maintain self-control and needed less sensory input. She slowly dropped physical therapy excepting for some stretching at home, then dropped occupational therapy, and two years ago, speech.

Today, her labels include honor student, equestrian, best friend, and last night, amazing cello player.

We will never know for sure what labels given by the many experts we saw over the years were accurate. I will never know if it was something I did that caused my daughter to have impairments in the beginning of her life.

But I have always believed her potential was limitless, instead of limited.

I share this not because I want to brag about my daughter (although I burst with pride). I share because I know there are so many parents with kids who have speech issues or a physical limitation or may just be a little different. I understand exactly how you feel. Trust me, I get it.

And I want you to stop feeling guilty, and instead celebrate the fact that you can do everything in your power to make your kid the best version of themselves, that you are doing that already just by loving and accepting them as they are in this moment.

I don’t mind labels. I don’t mind them because you can always rip them off and replace them with something new.