Some educators believe that the labels used to identify and classify exceptional children today stigmatize them and serve to deny them opportunities in the mainstream. Labeling is required to be included for special education. Under current law, to receive special education services, a child must be identified as having a disability (i.e., labeled) and, in most cases, must be further classified into one of that state’s categories, such as mental retardation or learning disabilities. Others argue that a workable system of classifying exceptional children is a prerequisite to providing needed special educational services and that reducing the stigma associated with disability requires honest and open recognition of the condition and that using more “pleasant” terms minimizes and devalues the individual’s situation and need for supports.
Advantages of Labeling
The advantages of labeling were more obvious in the formative years of special education (mid-1940s to early 1970s), than they are now. For instance, without the category of learning disabilities, advocates for these children would have had no rallying point to promote educational programs. Imagine how ineffective scientists would be in raising money for cancer research if they had no name for it. The advantages of labeling can be summarized as follows:
1. Federal and local funding of special education programs are based on categories of disabilities.
2. Labeling enables professionals to communicate with one another because each categorical label conveys a general idea about learning characteristics.
3. The human mind requires "mental hooks" to think about problems. If present categorical labels were abolished, a new set of descriptors would evolve to take their place. There is ample evidence of this in the evolution of the term "mildly retarded."
4. Labeling the disability spotlights the problem for the public. Labeling can spark social concern and aid advocacy efforts.