Labels, boxes and groceries

We in the world of learning disabilities get stuck with labels. Or, rather, the labels get stuck on us. Often, these labels are shortened into acronyms, usually ending in D. D for difference. Or disability. Or disorder. Or something. ASD, ADD (or ADHD), NLD, LD, PDD (sometimes with an NOS!), SPD…. sometimes it seems like you could take any two letters, add a D and get a disability! Maybe psychologists suffer from HLD. That’s Hyper-labeling disorder!

But these labels can be useful. They can help us find each other, they can help us find resources, they can make us feel less alone. Those are all good things. We can also shorten some of our speech and writing by referring to clusters of symptoms by a set of initials. That’s kind of convenient. But we must be careful that the convenience serves us, rather than the other way ’round.

Boxes are convenient too. They let us pack things and move them around easily. It’s a lot easier to move a box of groceries than to move each item. And some groceries pack nicely, too. Even if the groceries don’t pack nicely, you can stuff the box with newspaper or something to make it snug and fit.

But people aren’t groceries. There’s no newspaper to stuff in and make us fit, and we are not meant to be easily portable. “Oh! He’s SRD” (some Random Disorder) “stick him in XXXX and give him XXX”. No. That is, I admit, more convenient to the people assigning us to special classes or special help or special whatever. But we don’t fit. When it comes to people (and especially people like us) one size does not fit all. One size doesn’t fit anyone.

Labels can be useful. Boxes are for groceries.

And, since my label (NLD) would put me in a box that says “has no sense of humor” I will close with a joke.

A guy goes to have a suit made. He comes back and….

“This suit doesn’t fit me at all!”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Well, the right sleeve is too long”
“So, raise your shoulder and it will be fine”. He raises his right shoulder.
“But the left sleeve is too short!”
“So, hold your arm like this and it will be fine!” He holds his left arm in that position
“But it’s too big in the chest!”
“So arch your back and stick out your chest and it will be fine”. He arches his back and sticks out his chest.
He pays.

He’s walking down the street: One shoulder raised, one arm crooked, back arched, chest out.
Another guy stops him and says “Who’s your tailor?”
“Why would you want my tailor?”
“Because if he can fit you, he can fit anyone!”


  1. Ashe Isadora says

    Bless you! I’ve been dealing eith assumptions about my NVLD for years – from people (psychologists!) who should know better. Please keet writing about this!


  2. Thank you for posting this! My son has SPD and possibly other things going on. One more point to make from a parent\’s perspective: A diagnosis doesn\’t mean anything. Your child is your child… the label doesn\’t change who they are, but it can empower you and them to become the best version of themself. Isn\’t that what every parent wants for their child anyway, regardless of the child\’s label or non-label?

  3. Beautiful! We are all more than a label, and we deserve much more than being put in a box.

  4. I love this post and I so appreciate your ending – with the joke and the double irony!

    “… referring to clusters of symptoms by a set of initials… … kind of convenient. But we must be careful that the convenience serves us, rather than the other way ’round.”

    A beautiful reminder!


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