Today a mother whose son's teacher "has some concerns" approached me. The child is finishing third grade. Neither his academic performance nor his behavior is an issue; his grades are fine and he is never disruptive. However, he stands on the sidelines at recess, rarely interacts with other students, and cries easily. The teacher recommended an evaluation.
The mother's question to me was, "Why do we need to evaluate him? Many of these behaviors aren't an issue at home. Even if there is an issue beyond shyness and immaturity, what do we gain from having him labeled?"
I struggle answering this question. I struggle especially when the child (like this child) is an African-American boy. His demographic is more likely than others to receive a diagnosis, and his parents know as well as I that a label can easily translate into lowered expectations for the rest of his school career.
I begin by asking a few questions. Upon reflection, the child's sibling does answer most questions directed toward his brother, even health questions. No, the boy does not seem to know when he is sick. Even when he's having an asthma attack and his mother asks if he's wheezing, he will answer that he is not. Yes, he does tantrum easily and yes, he takes a long time to settle down.
The child seems to have some regulatory issues, I suggest. What's useful about a professional evaluation (when it will not result in school services) is that the mom will have an opportunity then to better understand her child's behavior. If she understands more, she can help him understand. If he understands what is happening in his brain and body, he can develop strategies to cope ant to re-regulate himself.
Understanding oneself is empowering, right? I'm a big believer that my daughter is better off knowing that she's autistic than she would be if she just knew something was different about her. This way we can talk about her strengths, her challenges, and their neurological foundation.
Still, I respect utterly the mother this morning being reluctant. She is not convinced that she would try to "fix" anything. I'm never sure what needs "fixing." The anxiety? Yes. The attendant rigidity? Yes. But what about the perseverations, social quirks and amazing perspective on the world? When I honestly ask myself why it's so important to fix these, I'm not sure if it's for my social comfort or for my daughter's quality of life.