Labels don’t matter. I don’t want them to be defined by the label. Labels, labels, labels. They really are everywhere we turn. We put them on everything. Whether it is our food our clothes our whatever it’s on everything. They are at times important, or at times they are not. Some of them are worth getting bent out of shape over and some of them just do not matter at all.
One of my interests is running and my favourite type of running is trail running. When it comes to running there are lots of labels, any sport this is true I guess. What brand are your shoes, what brand is your shirt, your shorts. It’s a long way from Dunlop volleys and cotton singlet tops. Mostly these labels are irrelevant except for the status and prestige factor. Sometimes though the go to label, the brand of choice is warranted. The Salomon label in the trail running community are very highly regarded. They produce what are without doubt the best running packs for carrying gear, food and hydration. They are costly and they are highly wanted. For quite some time I thought they were overpriced and couldn’t be that much better than all the others, then I bought one on sale, and was immediately convinced of just how much better than the alternative matters.
When it comes to trail running a Salomon Labelled running pack is worth getting out of shape over.
But these are not the labels I am so much thinking about. You may have noticed if you have read this blog that I am pretty passionate about the labels used in terms of Autism, that I believe language matters. I speak to it often. I think it’s important. It is important, it’s worth getting bent out of shape about because words have power.
Many would recall the old rhyme of
sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.
And I am sure many can relate to just how untrue that is.
Yes words are worth getting bent out of shape over. After spending most of my life undiagnosed autistic I have experienced a lot of unkind and unhelpful labels imposed upon me. Bullying and teasing was something of an everyday experience growing up. I received so many labels that were not of my choosing and was unable to assert an labels of which I chose to impose upon myself.
There is much about Identity First language and Person First Language in the Autism community. Recently I was asked why it is so important to me, another person said they never wanted to limit their child by the label autistic, they didn’t want them to be defined or typecast by it. I am pretty convinced that my reasoning is tied up in a response to both of these things.
The first being the importance, well it’s important because it is a label that I impose myself on myself, it is a label that equates with an understanding of my identity, my neurology and my state of being. For the first time it is a label I can wear happily knowing it fits rather than others.
In terms of the second, I can concur with the ideal of what this parent was saying, however in the end, I think it is naïvety to imagine that autistic kids who are not labelled as such are not labelled negatively by those around them. Yes labels define but definitions are never total and comprehensive. They attempt to describe and make meaning of things and this is true whether that be a negative, positive or neutral label.
The child that is not labelled as autistic will certainly have other labels such as ‘weirdo’, ‘freakish’, ‘loner’ etc applied to them. Whilst it is unlikely that these labels will forever be wiped out of existence what is certainly a fact is that they most often are spoken out of ignorance of a situation. I believe, and I have seen, that children that have been given some understanding about autism are much more able to understand and accept their autistic peers, indeed able to genuinely form friendships with them and in these situation it is far less likely these autistic kids will be labelled with those negative labels. Not impossible of course but less likely. The converse is also true, when kids don’t know that a peer is autistic they won’t have an understanding of them and why they are the way they are and be more likely to have those negative labels imposed upon them.
Surely, this understanding can enable these autistic kids, and adults too of course, to focus on their strengths instead of weaknesses. This I believe will have flow on implications where their skills and abilities are recognised and valued by their peers.
Some labels are worth getting bent out of shape over. Absolutely they are!