Focusing on Services and Supports, Not Labels

Our son started off in a local private preschool. He was bright, energetic and engaged. But his teacher noticed that he didn’t always follow directions. She thought he might have a hearing problem.

So we took him to our county’s early intervention program and had him tested. His first diagnosis was “pervasive developmental delays.” He was 2½ years old, and we were in shock.

My husband and I rushed to get him every type of support available. There was , , sensory integration sessions and . We played with him, read with him and loved him.

We started him at a public preschool program for kids with special needs in the morning. In the afternoon, he continued at the private preschool. There, he could see his friends and interact with kids who were more developmentally typical.

We also hired an educational consultant to learn about our school options. By the time our son reached age 5, he had a new diagnosis: “.” We knew about learning and thinking differences, of course. But we’d never heard of Asperger’s.

When it came time for our son to enter first grade, he was academically on target with his peers. At that time, little was known about Asperger’s in our school system. Most of the programs for children on the autism spectrum were for kids who didn’t communicate verbally. But our son was very verbal.

My husband and I were really afraid of his being labeled or limited by how others viewed him. So we wanted to have him taught in general education classes when possible.

When he wasn’t in a mainstream class, we pushed to have him in a class for kids with learning disabilities (), not one for kids on the autism spectrum. Again, we worried about the assumptions that came with the label. But we also thought people understood more about LD than about Asperger’s.

But while Asperger’s and learning and thinking differences share some common symptoms, they aren’t the same. A child with Asperger’s may need different supports. We realized this quickly. The LD class didn’t have the help he needed for his particular issues.

Fortunately, the school district was able to create a new class just for students with Asperger’s. It was the right fit for our son—along with spending part of his day in a mainstream class.

We learned some valuable lessons from our experience. Yes, labels can be scary. But worrying about a label or about what others think is no reason not to get the right services and support. And while a child with Asperger’s may have learning and thinking differences, such as and , there can be big differences.

Our son is unique. He deserves the right help to succeed.

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About the author

About the author

Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for