Runway models are used as a catalyst to wear and sell designer-labelled clothing. The spectator of a runway show is not interested in the model. Interest lies purely in how the designer labels are worn in order to sell a product. Designer labels are highly sought after.
If you have them, you are in and if you don’t, well, it’s an age-old story of Money + Designer Label = Popularity. The problem with labels and the perception of the people wearing them makes it easy to both include and exclude on the basis of those perceptions.
Some labels are, however, invisible to the naked eye. “Gifted”. “Intellectually Disabled”. “Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disordered”. “Autistic”. “Oppositional Defiant.” In what way are these labels perceived? Yes, neurologists agree that labels make it easier for our brains to identify, categorize and understand the world around us. Is that also the case for people?
When labelling people however, the people themselves to some extent, become invisible to the naked eye. All one sees is the label. Much like runway models, people who are labelled are often overlooked and defined by the way the label hangs or is hung on them. They become a catalyst for placing blame, selling assessments, treatment strategies and pharmaceuticals. The world around them perceives them in a certain way. For better or worse this is how the brain works.
Labels may allow us some insight into characteristics of an individual and offer options to the individual, parents and professionals to make adjustments to their own behaviours to ensure that person has his/her needs met through adaptations, accommodations or instructions.
But, does a Person + Label = Understanding ?
Understanding comes from an ability to listen. Understanding comes from an ability to empathize, inquire, listen carefully without judgement, and communicate effectively. When you are not sure of what to do, ask how you can help and then provide it as opposed to what you think they need. Sometimes that means just listening without the offer of opinion or advice. Some people need reassurance, guidance and patience, others need space, quiet and sensitivity and yet others need attention, affection and approval. There is nothing worse than assumption and perception as driving forces for change.
Parents, partners and professionals often believe they have a better understanding once a label is applied. Perhaps there is a better understanding of what may work or not work for the social inclusion, academic instruction and personal needs of the individual. However, the label is not the person. People require more than a label to flourish and grow in positive and productive ways. One person's measure of success is not another’s. Respect and autonomy must be given to the individual for how they choose to identify themselves or how they measure success to ensure they do not become invisible.
As the Bard said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet …”