Labelling in Special Education. (Advantages and Disadvantages)

“Labeling is a process of creating descriptors to identify persons who differ from the norm. Normal is a broad relative term. Everyone is different in some way from someone else” (Darrow and White) as sited in Davis, K. (2004). As humans we use numerous labels on a daily basis without being conscious. We may say the teacher, the doctor, or the principal, this is done to conjure up an image of the person in question, and how they might look or act. In a similar way, we often label persons with disabilities.

Why are persons with disabilities ladled? W.L. Heward(2010) mentioned that “Labeling is required to be included in special education. Under current law, to receive special education services, a child must be identified as having a disability and, in most cases, must be further classified into one of that state’s categories, such as mental retardation or learning disabilities”. Persons with disabilities are ladled based on their medical and educational diagnosis, for example cripple which is used to refer to a person(s) with a mobility impairment. This may leave one to ask if labeling is all bad. Perhaps “there are some positive aspects to labeling a person’s disability. The brings to the fore the famous labelling theory, which states that if an individual is given a certain label (example: “criminal”, “convict”, “gangster”, etc.), even if it is a label that negatively affects their reputation, the individual will resort to behaving like the label. Labels are sometimes used as a prerequisite to receiving federal funding or to acknowledging accommodations that must be made for a person with a disability” (Cassidy & Sims, 1990 in Darrow and White)(as sited in Davis, K. (2004 ).

Advantages of labeling.

1. Labeling the disability spotlights the problem for the public. Labeling can spark social concern and aid advocacy efforts. When persons are labeled, advocacy groups now have an opportunity to identify the problem and lobby for it on behalf of the individuals. In other words, Labeling creates cohesive communication for advocacy groups.

2. Labeling may make the majority without disabilities more tolerant of the minority with disabilities. Labeling provides the person without the disability an opportunity to research about the condition and make them more tolerant of the person with the disability. This is so because people are labeled based on their educational or medical diagnosis.

3. Labeling makes it easier for legislators to understand the need for laws protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. In cases where applicable, labeling allow legislators to see the discrimination that persons with disabilities face thus, making legislators develop laws to protects persons with disabilities.

4. Labeling has led to the development of specialized teaching methods, assessment approaches, and behavioral interventions that are useful for teachers of all students. By labeling, educators are able to research the disabilities and identify or develop specialized methods to teach students with the varied disabilities.

Disadvantages of labeling.

1. Students cannot receive special education services until they are labeled. In many instances, the intervention comes too late. Students with disabilities are at a disadvantage when they have to wait to be labeled before they can receive special education services. In essence, the need to label students before help arrives undermines a preventive approach to mild learning problems.

2. Labels tend to focus on impairment and may encourage people to see the impairment instead of the child. Often times when a child is labeled, the person without the disability focuses on the child limitations and not their strength. The onlooker id forced not to look pass the disability, while the real beauty is shoved aside by the label.

3. When a child is labeled, the blame and guilt is forced onto the shoulders of the parent. This makes the parent feel as if their child is constantly discriminated and the parent eventually feels that it is their fault. As a result, the parent may with draw the child from the wider society as a means of protection.

4. Labels may result in lower expectations for the child than for peers. In some cases, the moment a child is labeled, the expectation of the child is lowered. As a result of the child disabilities, they are not expected to perform at a high standard as the rest of the class or their peers in general.


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