Labeling, classifying and defining differences helps determine what accommodations and interventions the student might benefit from. Labeling is also a means for those working with a student to communicate about the individual’s needs. Labeling determines the type of programs the student is eligible for. Labeling becomes a disadvantage when it is used as an excuse rather than an explanation of the student’s abilities. I cringe when I hear statements like, “He has ADD. Being disorganized is part of his disability.” Labels sometimes stereotype an individual and cause others to look at limitations rather than possibilities.
I have been a big fan of Dr. Mel Levine for years. He promotes evaluating strengths, weaknesses and interests to develop a learning profile. This approach helps the student have a better understanding of them self. A label is pretty one dimensional and often has stereotypes attached to it. Dr. Levine’s web site is http://www.allkindsofminds.org/ His book A Mind at a Time is an in depth look at alternatives to labeling.
The goal of Response to Intervention (RtI) is to do a better job of trying accommodations and modifications for students prior to referring them. Before an educator can refer a student for evaluation 3 different scientifically based interventions have to be done. If the first one is what the student needs it is not necessary to try more. If none of them work the referral is made. This initiative is to fulfill a NCLB requirement and also address the issue of disporportionate numbers of minority students receiving special education.
My education in labeling started 16+ years ago when my son received his first label, ADHD. Three years later dysgraphia was added to his descriptors. He never qualified for special education but he did need accommodations. The dysgraphia label helped me communicate with his teachers about his handwriting. The ADHD label probably also helped communication between school and home. I have always had mixed feelings about that label because I believe it has some very strong stereotypes. I think labels can help but should be used sparingly not as a descriptor. A good book on the topic of labeling is "Our Labeled Children" by Robert J. Sternberg and Elena L. Grigorenkso. It was published just over a decade ago but it has many good insights.