A child like CHT comes with labels; so many you can barely see the girl for the tags.

FASD:  condemned before birth to a lifetime of struggle and frustration, these four letters are acid etched by alcohol into the brains and faces of children while still in the womb. Once born, the label is widely unrecognized except by those who carry it; there is little support, and it is devastatingly misunderstood.

Victim of Domestic Trauma:  this sharp edged label is scriven in blood. Penned by a family at war, the twists and turns of every letter cut deep crimson scars, leaving no room for words of tenderness, care or protection.

Looked After Child:  ward of the state, taken.  A label written only in numerals on the side of a file. A case, a report, a court order; lost among the many on a social worker’s desk. Just one more number in the tangled workload of a weary care system.

RAD:  a theory, a diagnosis.  A primal wound ripped into the very fabric of the soul.  A label scrawled like graffiti on a great wall that imprisons love trust and self-belief, and separates a child from their roots and their home.

Sensory Disorder:  a label packed tight with conflicting messages.  Tapped out in code, it’s white noise assaults every sense to scramble any chance of integration and regulation, and makes chaos of the world – inside and out.

Adopted:  an official seal on a dotted line, this label classifies a human as an institution; too complex to do justice here.

Sometimes I wonder which label we are dealing with today, which one is steering her with its complex script.

All these terms render her different:  set apart, misunderstood, marginalized, lonely – all that even before the hateful jibing labels that haunt every child in the playground: fatty, four eyes, big ears, gingernut, stupid, pissyknickers, crybaby, pig pen, welfare…

I hate them; hate them all.  Hate that she was given them, and the power they have over her.  The pain they carry, the way they cling to her, and how they shred her childhood to ribbons.  I hate the way they dominate and obscure her, and force her to live their story. And lastly, I hate that – as she discovers each label and recognizes them in herself – they leave their mark ever deeper in her skin, like tattoos. 

But then – for a moment – she is simply a girl once more.  

Just a kid; a whole kid, unfettered by words.  Running along the link mesh at school during playtime, waving madly and shrieking with surprise; laughter pealing from her lips and light shining from those deep, brown eyes.  Shedding all the labels in an instant, forgotten; fluttering, trampled in her wake like autumn leaves.

No preoccupations, no issues, no disorders, no fears, no trauma, no pain, no wound, no walls; no labels. Just running, elated and happy to see someone she loves smiling back at her from the car window as it flashes past.

No labels – just a kid.

These are the days we label with hope.


Read more here on:

Children and Domestic Violence: Women’s Aid

FASD: The FASD Trust

Attachment Disorder (RAD): Dan Hughes

Sensory Disorder: SPD Foundation

13 thoughts on “Labels

  1. Brilliant post. Just brilliant. I often wonder if we are doing the right thing, by posting, tweeting, chatting and what have you. I wouldn’t be doing this if we were not adopting, so by definition is what I am doing setting my son apart???? I need to check myself sometimes, and think that he is a little boy, and all he wants is to be safe and happy, as you say, no labels – just a kid! well done

    • Point to note for theonehandman: Simply by virtue of being an adoptee the kid has already been set apart and will likely experience a lifetime of having to relive it every so often. For example, signing up with an employment agency means almost every time I have my legalities questioned because so few of them have encountered an adoption certificate. I get told often and repeatedly that the only form of ID they will accept is passport (I don’t have one, and probably never will) or a birth certificate, at which point I have to explain that I’m not legally allowed to have one because I have an adoption certificate instead.

      It’s humiliating.

  2. We are creating community, in here. Gathering together not setting apart, and hopefully changing perceptions as our voices get louder. CHT wants our story told, wants to feel more like a kid – not through bottling things up or pretending the labels are not there, but by finding perspective and a way to stop fighting them, the anger, and the sadness. And by helping others understand.

    Thank you for your kind words and praise The OneHandMan. When the message is so clear it seems easier to deliver it x

  3. I know labels are tough, but sometimes they can be beneficial and even powerful in a positive way. They offer insight to behaviour, give access to funding sometimes, and just as there are great adoption communities, so are there great, supportive disability communities. I think what sucks about labels is the judgement that comes with them. It is always talked about in the disability world about person first language – she’s not autistic but she has autism; there is more to her than just autism although that is a part of who she is and what makes her who she is. I know this is the ideal and not always the real world, but I do believe in celebrating differences and using our strengths to our advantage.

    I don’t mean to sound all dismissive or sunshine and lollipops…I know that it sucks being on the judged side: Just last week I spoke to a potential day care on the phone and ‘forgot’ to mention Jonathan is Deaf, because I know the judgement and panic that people will have. Today when I went to meet them (w/o Jonathan) I talked to them and the lady was great, didn’t even flinch. 5 minutes after driving away and my phone rang, they were recommending other places that they thought might be better for him. It was so disappointing.

    Thanks for bringing up a great topic:)

    • Yes, my hatred is actually for the way the labels are used, and the power they have. Hate is a strong word, and I thought many times before using it today. In truth, if I dig a little deeper the emotion hiding behind the hate is quite probably despair.

      I am so sorry to hear about your your day care encounter and their reaction to Jonathan. It is so wrong, but then – it is a small mercy that they identified themselves as lacking the spirit to help him thrive. Good luck finding somewhere that will inspire and build his greatness, not just see his deafness.

      Thank you for your comment. Mx

  4. Labels can so easily be attached in concrete and have a box that confines and is all encompassing that stifles the butterfly within, desperate to fly and to shine their true beauty. Thanks for this and lets hope that the butterfiles will be let loose as we fight for their freedom – together – and soon. Sharing birth certificates gets me every time too, even now as a grown up. I remember once being told it wasnt a legal documanet and wouldnt suffice. Well, it’s all I have. Thanks Mumdrah – please check again your brilliant and helpful post on letterbox contact and edit again, if you need to? Thanks for writing about labels in this weeks WASO. I am loving this community. And need it.

    • Heart in my mouth – thank you for the most needed edit prompt. So easily done despite a million checks.

      I love the butterfly analogy. It adds insult to injury that red tape rubs salt in wounds. Thank you so much for your comments Mx

  5. Thankfully Mini isn’t too aware of his labels yet, but I know that labels help me cope, research, reach out, find support, find funding.
    Of course we wouldn’t have needed to cope, research etc, if Mini didn’t have the adoptee label, but the ‘traumatised child’ and ‘attachment difficulties’ tags help me find the right support for him and us.
    Hopefully when he’s older I’ll have given him the tools he needs to cope with those labels, to deal with them positively, and maybe even one day to feel proud of some of them.
    I have labels of my own too – ‘adopter’, but more importantly ‘parent’.

    Thanks for linking up with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out

    • You are right, there are far more issues than covered here. This post was written only through the experience of ‘label osbscura’.
      There is a sadness and a strength in discovering the labels together – as you say mini and CHT will hopefully own them as well as change them for the better. Your insight is more food for thought, thanks you. Mx

  6. Went on to this from FASD site, have enjoyed the content, especially the comments on labels….. Mine are
    Mum, gran, wife, foster parent, nursery manager, abused, survivor
    My family are….. Birth child, foster child, grandchild,looked after child, traumatised, developmentally disabled, rare chromosome disorder, cerebral palsy, and I wish FASD

    A lot of labels for an ordinary well functioning family full of love support and happiness. one times we need the labels to access the help needed but we MUST see past them and not let them label US

  7. My oldest son is aware of how he is set apart from others and desperately wants to be like all the other children, his piers . I know that each time he is faced with an option, a choice in life, especially one where he is under pressure or frightened he is reminded of his difference, because part of him will want to make the decision that is not considered the correct one . He has to work hard within to work out what choice is expected and acceptable and sometimes he doesn’t make it. Then he is reminded again when disciplined or reprimanded for making wrong choices. I see it in his eyes sometimes the weariness this creates in him. However I must say that creating labels which institutions like schools would recognise and be prepared to support is a definite positive.

    • So right, Sarah; i use them in school etc regularly because they can kick start the wake up call that is needed and convey that I know what I am talking about and won’t be messed with. This post explored how i feel about the labels in my love for CHT.
      That hard work your son puts in not to be different is heartbreaking, and I see it in CHT. I admire them for how much fight they have in them, but I also see how much it wears them down.
      I wish schools understood more about how their techniques around ‘behaviour’ push these kids into a tight corner and jeopardise their well-being/futures. ‘Accepted’ and ‘expected’ does not apply. Mx

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