What's in a name?

January 30, 2012
Chelsea Budde

Indeed, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as William Shakespeare's love-struck Juliet surmised. But have you ever tried to cultivate roses?  They're a fussy flower (at least in Wisconsin's corner of the gardening universe).  So if Juliet had cared for her rose bushes in the same manner as her hardy mums, she might be rather disappointed come spring.  In fact, her sweet roses would be thorny, dead sticks standing barren in defiance of warmer days.

The point is that if we do not name a rose accordingly, we will not know how to care for it properly.  We'll neglect its special needs for lack of understanding.  It is the same with children with differently-wired brains.  We can pretend all we want that diagnoses don't matter.  We can insist that all children are special and show them that flowers have varying blooms.  But without specific instruction and correct terminology, they'll unintentionally mistreat the plant.

Ignoring autism in the classroom is as misguided as ignoring roses in the garden.  Look not at names and diagnoses as restrictive labels, but as descriptors that bring to mind a specialized set of skills for instruction and interaction.  People with epilepsy have a differently-wired brain, but I wouldn't use the same skill set in modifying curriculum for someone impacted by seizures as I would for someone impacted by autism.  And students with ADHD have different reasons for their difficulty in attending to instruction than students with autism do.  Neuro-typical peers socializing with a friend with epilepsy may not have to change their means of communication, but they likely will when connecting with a classmate with autism.

See what I mean? Using proper terminology with children of any age is a way to share a common language and attach common definitions.  Certainly, in the case of autism spectrum disorder in particular, those definitions may change over time.  (Just wait for the DSM-5 to be released!)  But if we're all on the same page equipped with the same lexicon, then we can treat one another with the respect and understanding we each deserve.

And if you need any help establishing that lexicon, Good Friend, Inc., is here to serve!

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