What is Normal?

Having a child diagnosed with autism, one inevitably comes up against this question – What exactly is normal?

According to Dictionary.com – “Normal:  1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.  2. serving to establish a standard.  Psychology – a. approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.  b. free from any mental disorder; sane.”

Autism is a neurological disorder, yet interestingly, if one goes to dictionary.com and looks up autism, the word “neurological” never shows up in it’s definition.  In fact, it is defined as:  1. Psychiatry – a pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment.  2.  a tendency to view life in terms of one’s own needs and desires.”

Okay  – so the definition certainly suggests something outside of “normal”, though “a tendency to view life in terms of one’s own needs and desires” certainly describes a great many people I’ve come in contact with over the course of my life.  In fact, couldn’t one even say that this is one of the great flaws of being human?  We all tend to view our lives as our own private universe, and though we have grown to understand we are not the center of it, a great many still wish we were.

Have you ever engaged in a conversation with another person only to begin lamenting the problems of the world, our government, other governments only to conclude that if everyone just listened to us, the world would be a better place?  How many times in a relationship have you thought, if only the other person would listen to me, do as I wish, everything between us would be so much easier?

It all comes down to the degree.  I didn’t bother to look up narcissism, but I’m pretty sure people who have that tendency would fall under the second definition of autism – though the resemblance stops there.

When I think about my daughter, Emma, she is the antithesis of narcissism.  Emma is without ego.  She is also without malice.  It would never occur to Emma to tease or set out to hurt another person’s feelings.  These are not things she is cognitively capable of.  I remember the first time she told a lie, I was ecstatic.

“Did you hear her?” I asked my husband, Richard.  ”I asked her if she’d brushed her teeth and she told me she had, but when I went into the bathroom, her toothbrush hadn’t been used!”

“Things are all falling into place,” Richard said with a grin.

The idea that Emma understood that if she told me what she knew I wanted to hear, even though it wasn’t true, it might allow her to get away with not doing something she didn’t want to do, was a huge step toward “normalcy”.

I have grown to dislike these definitions and labels.  I find them utterly unhelpful.  Perhaps in the beginning when I knew nothing about PDD-NOS – the diagnosis first given to Emma when she was two – I had no idea what people in the field were talking about, and so it was imperative that I learn what these labels meant.  But now, some seven years later, those same labels do little to help us help our daughter.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Emma in Central Park carrying her dad’s “man bag.”

One response to “What is Normal?

  1. According to the OED autism is “an abnormal withdrawal from the world of reality”. I can already hear arguments developing about what is abnormal withdrawal? Is this what monks, nuns and hermits do? And what is reality? Is it the world apprehended by our senses? What about quantum mechanics? String theory? Dark matter? Black holes? And on the non-science side, what about sorrow, happiness, empathy, love?

    There’s an awful lot out there that most people ignore and yet manage to get through their lives being completely “normal”.

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