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