Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Read the nutrition label to understand what you’re eating. Read the clothing label to understand how to wash and dry your shirt. But, perhaps it’s best not to read your students’ labels.

What do I mean by labels? We label children “learning disabled” or “special ed” in a kind-hearted attempt to get them the help we feel they need. We search for diagnoses for our children: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Executive Function Disorder, and Sensory Processing Disorder. These diagnoses are important – they help us understand not only what our children are going through, but also how we can help them overcome those issues. Sometimes those “labels” are the key to understanding why and how someone can succeed. So what do I mean by avoiding labels?

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Approach the child, not the label. Labels are great because they are clear and defined, but when we only see the label, we lose the individual. First see the child, then understand how that unique person fits with the diagnosis they are struggling with.

Foster strengths while addressing gaps. The label will talk about the “deficiencies” that the child is dealing with – a lot of focus or a struggle with reading. While we need to address those gaps, we also need to look at the distinctive strengths that that child brings to each situation. Then, we need to encourage those strengths.

Don’t get stuck. Labels are not only clear and defined, they are also unchanging. Sometimes your child will change, through therapy, intervention, and education. Avoid getting stuck on a label or diagnoses and pay attention to positive change.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.