As my long-term readers will be well aware, I have no issue with the word “normal.” Some people abuse and misuse the word, but some people abuse and misuse pretty much every concept ever conceived of, so I’m not holding the word “normal” responsible for that. Why am I bringing this up again then? Because something wonderful got figured out about my younger (non-autistic) son’s behaviour, and about my parenting: We are normal.
My youngest son has a speech delay (he’s not normal in that regard, by definition), and as part of working on the speech delay we got referred to an Early Intervention Teacher, then an Educational Psychologist: Under the theory that certain unhelpful behaviours he has were possibly getting in the way of his speech development. Long story short, the Educational Psychologist ran me through a lengthy questionnaire about my son’s behaviours and my own parenting, in order to identify areas that might need work or intervention. Turns out, we’re normal. Not even borderline normal, but snuggly within the normal range.
My son’s behaviours had been improving over the past few weeks anyway, as I suspected they might as he matured and gained more skills and understanding. Still, it is nice to know he’s so very normal, and I’ll tell you why: Not because this makes him better than those who are abnormal, but because this means any behavioural issues he’s facing can be worked on by the usual methods. I don’t have to drug him and balance side effects against non-drugged outcomes, I don’t have to learn all about ADHD or ODD, I don’t have to go through endless sessions of being watched and assessed, filling out forms, and educating everyone who works with him about his unique and challenging challenges.
This is why normal is awesome. And why the word is meaningful and important: It tells you to keep calm and carry on, which is quite simply something you’d be ill-advised to do if your child has a disability (which requires you to turn your world upside down). For me, going through those questions and getting those results was immensely reassuring; it was reassurance I desperately needed after everything I’ve been through with my first-born.
Does the fact that my youngest is comparatively normal mean I love him more than my first-born? Of course not, that’s absurd. But it does mean his life, and my life raising him, is that much easier. “Easier” also doesn’t simply mean better, it means exactly what it says: Easier. Walking is easier than driving, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth driving, or that walking doesn’t come with its own challenges.
All of this should be obvious, yet parents who declare that their disabled child is harder to look after and is abnormal in a variety of ways, are all too often attacked for stating those simple truths. If those words offend you – if my joy at the fact that my youngest son is “more normal” than his older brother, makes you angry at me – then I suggest you examine what you have personally built into that word, beyond its functional meaning. And don’t extend the prejudices of yourself or those around you, onto someone who intends no moral judgment by its use.
Recognising how much harder it is to raise a child who sits outside the normal range of behaviours – due to conditions like autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, ODD, etc – is a good thing that we should always be honest about. The public needs to know how much more support and extra resources we need to do these children justice. If we try to cover over that reality, we just do our children and other families an injustice. People also need to understand that normalcy is not equated with “being a better person” or similar ideas; telling people to simply not use the word normal, doesn’t confront those misunderstandings and judgments – people will just find a new word to capture their disdain (consider the abuse of the word “special” after that became widely used to denote these extra needs).
I’m sure there are other ways my youngest son will sit outside the normal range of things, as he already does in his speech. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll adjust; it’s what parents do. I’ll learn, and I’ll teach and I’ll do whatever it takes to help him through this world. But right now, for today, I am going to take this joy at his behavioural normalcy. Even when he thinks every toy in the world is his, simply waiting for him to assert “mine” loudly in its direction as toddlers do so well, I’m going to take comfort in the fact that simple good parenting practices – and time itself – will get us to the other side of each challenge.
And when my older son – my autistic son – gets home from his Special School within the next 15 minutes, arriving in his Special Taxi – I’m going to hug him and love him just the same as I do every other day. These are my children, for all their normalities and abnormalities, and nothing could make me love them less.