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Toronto, Canada

312 Adelaide Street West, Suite 301
Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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Why I Won’t be Labelling my Daughter as Special Needs

Written by Melissa Robertson
special needs

We are in the middle of a busy gymnasium during play group. All the children are riding bikes, throwing balls, and yelling with the reckless abandon that comes with the permissible use of their ‘outdoor voice.’ But my daughter is silent. In a scene that has become all too common, she has found herself in a cozy coupe parked against the wall. She is escaping the crowd that makes her ‘nervous’ and avoiding all the fun.

She is four years old.

In four years of being a mother to Hannah, one of the toughest lessons I have learned is I cannot ‘fix’ it. No matter how many times I try to encourage her socially, if she is having a hard day, she will be there against the wall. As her mother, I am right there with her, wishing her out, accepting her in.

As I led him over to my struggling four-year-old, he asked the question many want to ask but are afraid to.

“What’s wrong with her?”

Of all my children, Hannah is the one who challenges me the most. She is also the sweetest, most loving, and interesting kid I have ever met. She will constantly seek me out to tell me I am “the bestest mother in the world,” but then refuse to leave the house.

Hannah’s quirks keep me on my feet constantly. She has a hard time managing emotions and so I am encouraged to keep my cool around her while also helping to keep her from losing it. The only thing harder than constantly talking an easily frustrated four-year-old down, is self-talking a sleep deprived 34-year-old down.

After a year of pediatrician visits, we don’t really know much. After a series of tests and visits, it was determined she ‘probably’ has sensory issues and is at risk for autism, anxiety and ADHD. What that means in real life is my four-year-old is at a wait-and-see crossroads and I am doing everything I can to put her in a better direction.

My quest for Hannah has had a constant deadline: kindergarten. After spending nine months in preschool and excelling in speech therapy, I began to have hope for September. The thing about Hannah though is that much of her behaviour patterns are cylindrical. As she was on an absolute high, she is now swinging the opposite way.

It started with soccer. We thought what better way for her to socialize in a positive way than to put her on a soccer team with her little sister? Unfortunately, we really underestimated how much soccer would ask from Hannah. The crowd, the noise, the repetitive tasks. It was a recipe for disaster. The first night I went alone with her and her younger sister and almost left in tears. She spent the hour running away and throwing herself on the ground. Fighting back tears I sought out the organizer and began pleading for a refund. As I led him over to my struggling four-year-old, he asked the question many want to ask but are afraid to.

“What’s wrong with her?”

He suggested transferring her to the special needs team on Saturday morning. I stubbornly refused. Not because she doesn’t need it; because I am afraid to admit she does.

My girlfriend is a special education teacher and she is a firm believer in labels. She feels that by identifying a child’s struggles you can better help the child. It makes sense on paper, and I spent countless hours in offices trying to find an answer, but still I hesitate.

Once I put a label on her will she be branded for life?

Once I put a label on her will she be branded for life? I want her to go to school and make friends and be happy. I want her to fit in, but I have to accept that she may not.

In order to further ready her for school, I put her in a summer program which runs every morning for three weeks. This was her first taste of what September will bring. Three days in she had thrown a chair, a sandwich, got in a physical fight and told everybody she hated them.

It’s hard to be a parent and especially hard to be the parent that Hannah needs. She needs to practice self-control. She needs to be able to handle a school environment.

I decided to choose bribery.

Hannah is not the type of child who is motivated by stickers. A high five and a hug only go so far with my girl and I only have so much time to make this work.

After the fight, I decided that instead of threatening punishment I would focus on rewarding good behaviour. My husband and I dropped our two other daughters at my parent’s place for a sleepover and spent 24 hours focusing all of our attention on Hannah. I took her to the dollar store for her to pick out treats she could get for every ‘good day’ at school. While I was there a shopper stopped and commended me on telling Hannah she had to ‘earn’ her treats.

Instead, I choose to be Hannah’s mother, she is my daughter and not a diagnosis.

“So many kids get everything for nothing,” she said.

“This is actually straight up bribery,” I assured her. I can’t pretend to be super mom, even for the small dollar store moments.

So far we are three days in and she has had three good days in a row. For Hannah, this is a huge victory. For me, I am once again glimpsing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Hannah doesn’t fit into any particular mold, even when it comes to exceptional children. After much testing and time, all I know is that she has sensory tendencies, is socially immature and is at risk for the three A’s: autism, ADHD and anxiety. As her mother, my first instinct is to take this information and research the crap out of it, scaring myself and possibly doing more harm. Instead, I choose to be Hannah’s mother, she is my daughter and not a diagnosis.

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.