By Kodey Toney
Normal Like You
All too often as parents of children with disabilities we look for the quick fix. I can’t tell you the number of diets, vitamins, minerals, gadgets, therapies, etc., that we have tried in order to help Konner be more “normal”. There are so many issues with that last sentence that I can’t even tell you where to start. There have been many things in the past couple weeks that have made me think about these issues. This week I just want to focus on; What is normal?
In my attempt to gather information and shed some light on the situation I only complicated things for myself. This is because dictionary.com has several definitions of the word normal. I thought each of them were very interesting and yet condescending to the thought of children with autism being “abnormal”.
The first definition states: “Conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.” Ok, where do I start to break this one down? How about the beginning? We work really hard with occupational therapies and speech therapies to help our children conform to the standard of the “common type” that we forget that they are unique. Don’t we constantly tell our neurotypical children to be themselves, and yet we try everything to make our children with disabilities be like everyone else. Besides, I’ve seen some of the “normal” people out there. I like my child with autism. He doesn’t really lie, isn’t sarcastic, and is usually quiet unless something is bothering him (in other words he’s nothing like me). I love Kruz to death; I wouldn’t give him up for the world, but he’s my neurotypical kid, and sometimes his “common” activities drive me nuts.
The second definition states: “Serving to establish a standard.” With 1 in 88 children being diagnosed in the United States I think we need to reestablish the standard. Don’t forget, that is 1 in 88 diagnosed with autism, but what about the other intellectual and developmental disabilities? Isn’t it time we realize that disabilities are normal?
I believe this way of thinking is what is wrong with our society today. We had a guest speaker last weekend at the Partners in Policymaking class. Al Condeluci, PhD, spoke to the class about how we should think macro and not micro about inclusion in the community. What this really means is this; we work so hard to help our children with their therapies and trying to get them to conform to the normalcy of the community. This could be the school community, or the world at large. Either way we try to get them to act like, work, and even think like the majority. What we should be doing is helping the majority accept and understand people with disabilities. When people think that our children should go to a special school it makes me wonder, what is wrong with changing the school that he is in to be more understanding?
As I said last week, this truly is a civil rights issue. We shouldn’t look at people with disabilities as being handicapped or “retarded”. We should be looking at them for who they are; truly extraordinary people. They deal with more in one day than most do in a year.
This next one was interesting to me. The definition has a heading of Psychology. The first definition under this heading was: “Approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.” Okay, so as far as intelligence that is debatable. With many children with autism they have extraordinary intelligence. In fact, the less verbal people with autism are usually proven very intelligent once they find a way to communicate that aptitude. They also have more personality than most if you take the time to know them. There are very few people who don’t fall in love with Konner once they spend a little time with him.
The next in this subheading said: “Free from any mental disorder; sane.” Well, whose definition of sanity do we want to go with? That’s a whole other column altogether. However, if you look at the definition (since that is what we’re working with today) of autism it is a neurological issue. This differs from a psychological disorder.
The next is a definition under a medical heading that states: “Free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation.” Konner has never had a serious disease, malformation or infection that caused his social or sensory issues. This is why it is crazy that we try to “fix” our children with autism. There is nothing medically wrong, yet we still try to find a clinical fix for them. We should just be looking for was to help them cope with the issues that they will face. This is why the therapies are important.
The second part of this is: “Of natural occurrence.” Okay, this may be the loophole we’ve been looking for. I’m not sure this is what they mean by the definition, but Konner’s autism is a natural occurrence. It happened naturally, as far as we know. So by this definition Konner truly is normal then.
Now that I’ve proven that point, I feel that the bottom line is that we really need to change the attitude of the world not our children. It all starts with us.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column. You can also find all columns archived at blogspot.com.