What is “Normal”?
Over the years I have heard many Autism parents say something along the lines of “I just wish my child was normal” or “things would be easier if my child was normal”. I have also had many people ask me if I’d prefer normalcy to what I have; and I get where they are coming from. Though, to me, this is not a normal vs abnormal debate. It’s not even a question of which would be easier… It’s mostly a question of “what is normal?”
I have a few spectrum traits myself: I think very logically, tend to have a hard time with the abstract and have to really think about analogies. I hate looking others in the eyes and instead watch their mouths when they speak or focus on something else entirely. I have a hard time talking with people in general, and doing so tends to irritate me. I prefer to be alone rather than with company, even in public while shopping; others tend to make me nervous and angst-ridden. When things aren’t exactly to my specifications I get irritable. My brain goes so much faster than my mouth communication can be a strain for me. Even writing this blog is difficult because I have way too many “trains” of thought going on and I have to concentrate to get the right one written down (which, more often than not, fails and I ramble a bit, maybe a lot).
For me, that ⇑ is normal. I have lived this way as long as I can remember; though I was much better at “faking it” in my teens. What is it, then, I wonder, these other people wish for their children or for mine?
Certainly the communication, at least in my child, is lacking; I hope that one day he is able to get to a point where he can at least convey his want/need/desire for even the basic necessities (he knows “I want Juice” and “I want eat”, but uses them about 5% of the time). However, I have gotten used to deducing what he is trying to convey and only struggle with his requests on occasion. Do I wish he was clear and concise? Meh. It is only an issue when I don’t get what he’s saying, which is rare, and that’s more on me; he is literally doing the best he can, and I will not fault him for that.
The ability to use the toilet on his own, or at all, would be phenomenal; and not just because being 8 and still in diapers might be demoralizing for him (whether or not he conveys it) but it would also save me a ton of money, time and hassle (do you know how hard it is to find diapers for an 8 year old that fit right and do not leak all over everything with the slightest provocation? it would be cheaper and easier to just put plastic sheeting over everything in the entire house!) Do I want this to be more normal? Yes. Though I’m rolling with it til he’s ready.
Is having friends really that important? I have none…zero…zip…nada. I mean, I do know people; neighbors, clerks at stores I frequent, but these are not friends and I do not feel the need or urge to make them so (and certainly not because they are sh!tty people either). So, do I wish my son had friends? Nah. When I take him to the park he does two things; hangs out with me and plays with the toys that are donated our park for the kids to enjoy. He is often approached by other children and pays them absolutely no mind. If or when he decides to show an interest in other children, I’ll consider finding him a play group or something, but until then, I fail to see how this hurts him.
Is it imperative that he attend public school? I personally, HATED public school. Too much bullying (kids can be, and usually are, a$$holes) and sheer boredom (The curriculum is seriously lacking). The teachers have no time for individual needs when they have 30+ other children they are teaching, in just that hour or two. I home-school my kids; I am lucky enough to be in that position. Now, my boy may not be the best at writing (very sloppy due to motor control issues), but he can do it, and in 7 or 8 different languages. He has horrible enunciation, but again, can speak in several different dialects. I’ve mentioned before his ability to name every country and its flag by memory (he even knows most if not all of the territory flags within each of the countries). He has been reading since he was 2 (by his own volition). He knows all the shapes, even the weird ones that most of us don’t bother with (tetrahedron, enneadecagon). He knows most, if not all, of the dinosaurs by long name, not our cute nicknames. He can match the faces and names to all of our past presidents. He knows all of the planets and their moons/satellites in our solar system and in several others. And so much more… How did he learn all this? Flash cards, books and YouTube! I kid you not, YouTube is his go to for information and he is really good at finding it. Public school will not teach him even close to half of this information, and what it does teach will be difficult for him to grasp because his style of learning is completely visual (hence his love of YouTube). So, no, a public school is not needed or wanted in this situation.
My son has a serious phobia of utensils, and as such, meal times in my house require him to receive his own special foods. Add that to the fact that he only eats about 20 different things… Could I use some normalcy here? Sure. Though we have found a few healthy items that are basically heat and eat, so it’s not really that much of an inconvenience. The only thing I would like, is for him to have the ability to eat vegetables; which he cannot do, due to it causing uncontrollable gagging (and possibly actual puking, but I’ve never pushed it that far). This basically just means he has to take more supplements (of the liquid variety, carefully slipped into his juice) to get all his nutrients. Inconvenience? Yes, but mostly monetarily.
His nervous system is both lacking and oversensitive, which causes random bouts of extreme elephant parade style stomping, 5k marathons (both indoors and out) and times when he doesn’t want anything to touch him. Could this use some normalcy? Yes. But again, it’s not the end of the world. We have developed routines for both scenarios and neither is a pain to implement. He is also prone to overstimulating himself, which results in meltdowns, but again, a little quiet time, and he’s good as new. Normal? No, and not the easiest things to fix or abate, but not totally life altering.
He hates, and I do mean HATES, having his teeth brushed; and flossing is completely out of the question. It is a non-stop fight for at least 5 minutes a night, and even after that, I am unable to do a very good job for him. This results is extra trips to the dentist for cleanings. I’m just lucky to have good dental insurance.
He also hates hair cuts with a passion. There is a lot of screaming and crying involved, and he’s not happy about it either.
Things that would be considered normal…
He dislikes his little sister bothering him. He recently discovered Minecraft and Disney Infinity, and enjoys the crap out of them. He picks his nose (but is kind enough not to wipe the boogers on anything but his clothes and doesn’t eat them, thank you very much) He loves dirt and most things messy; but not gooey, he doesn’t do gooey. He loves to play the drums (and a few other musical instruments), loudly, and is quite good at it. He loves his mama, and displays affection quite often and very randomly. He enjoys playing with his toys, which are copious in both amount and variety; granted half the time he is just lining them up or sorting them, he does still “play” in his own way. He knows where his snacks reside in the kitchen, and helps himself. He also, thankfully, knows where the garbage is and uses it appropriately. I’d say this all would be considered absolutely normal behavior.
In the end, the answer to wanting/needing normalcy isn’t really about what is or is not normal. My normal, my entire households normal, may or may not be yours. Even though there are a few areas I would like to see improvements in my son, it is not because I crave normalcy. A few things changed that would improve his quality of life, i.e. toilet training, is not a desperate cry for normal. I am living in my normal, and I fail to see any problem with it. I would suck at “soccer mom” or “PTA mom” or even “career mom”; these aren’t who I am, they are not “my” normal. So, while I may not love all aspects of my life (another topic for another time), this is not one area where I feel lacking or feel that my son is lacking. He gets everything he wants and needs, without question and with all the love a parent can possibly muster. So until someone can prove to me, without a shred of doubt, what is normal and why it should matter so dang much…
I have “my” normal and my wine… and it’ll have to do.