When John was first being evaluated for autism, he underwent a long screening process. It seemed as though he was under constant observation. Because, as I learned, there is no concrete test used to diagnose autism. No MRI, CAT scan or blood test will give you any insight into his condition. There is only his behavior and development to base an opinion on. So, after his doctor studied John, he informed me, "Shannon, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I think you're right. Your son no longer seems to be developing like a normal child."
A normal child. This is the goal of every parent. If you ask a person what they want for their children, they will almost always tell you, "I just want a healthy, normal child." People may dream of their kids being these special, important people some day, but really they are satisfied with normal.
So, after being told that John was not developing like a normal child, I was then told the reason it was taking so long to diagnose him is that he was also not developing like a normal child with autism. Damn, there's that word again. I was beginning to develop a passionate hate for the word normal. If a child has autism, can you even use the word normal to describe him? A normal child with autism; what does that even mean? Confused much? I was too.
There is a wonderful expression, "When you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism." Every child with autism develops and behaves differently. No two are alike in every way. Even if you have a nuero-typical child, they are unique and special in their own way. But really, isn't that true of us all? Isn't that life? So why bother with labels like normal in the first place?
There are a lot of words in our society which have become taboo over the years. The word Stewardess has now become flight attendant, and don't bother calling someone a secretary because they're administrative assistants. These days it can be considred by some politically incorrect to label a person as normal. Instead, words like typical and average stand in it's place. Although, these words often carry the same meaning as their predecessors, they have become a part of our terminology.Probably, because we feel that by using them we have made some kind of progress. My problem with the word normal is not the word, but the meaning behind it. Whether you say normal, typical or average they all mean one thing: the same.
John watches cartoons, he loves the water and swimming, he loves to be tickled and laughs like any child, he loves walks and games. Wouldn't these things be considered normal? They're the same things that any other child loves to do. Yet, John has autism. He stims, has repetitive behaviors, social issues and cannot speak yet. But because he is affectionate, doesn't have tantrums, and doesn't have obsessive behaviors he is not considered a normal child with autism. So where does John fit in?
Or does all of this just make the word normal totally irrelevant? Which of us can be considered normal? Who gets to decided what is considered normal and what is not? Most peoples definitions would include the majority. So who gets left out? Do we automatically exclude those who have disabilities, special needs and illness? What about those who lead productive lives despite their "abnormalities"? Like the school teacher who also happens to have epilepsy. What category do they fall under? Sick, Sick/Normal, or just Normal with a twist? Where do we draw the line?
Can we look at a person and know if they are "normal" or not. One of my all time favorite actors is Dan Aykroyd, a man who has had a long and illustrious career. He is also a man who is living with Tourette's Syndrome . A condition he has had since childhood. This has never stopped him from leading a fulfilling life. If you saw Dan Aykroyd today, would you think he was part of the majority? And if you saw John today he would appear like a healthy, happy, normal child. And he is a healthy, happy, normal child; who also happens to have autism. Why don't we stop categorizing people for who we think they are and accept them for who they actually are.