Tag Archives: normal

What is Normal – Continued

A few weeks ago while at the swimming pool with Emma, a woman asked me where she should take her two grandchildren, who were going to be staying with her.  After inquiring what the age of her grandchildren were – just a bit younger than Nic and Emma –  I began with a list of parks, (all with water features) moved on to museums, then zoos, botanical gardens etc.

At one point she pointed to Emma, who was standing near me twirling her hair around her index finger, and said, “What are her favorite things to do?”

I waited to see if Emma would respond, when she did not, I said, “Emma likes any park with water and the Central Park carousel,” I said.  As I was speaking Emma was twirling her hair and opening all the lockers in the dressing room.  Trying to engage her I said, “Hey Em.  What do you like to do on the weekends?”

Emma turned to me and said, “You have to ask Mommy.  Mommy can I go home now?”

The woman looked kindly at Emma, then with a certain amount of confusion said, “Oh!”

“Emma has autism,” I said.  “Pronouns have always been tough.”

“I would never have guessed that looking at her,” the woman said.

I put my arm around Emma and said, “It was nice speaking with you, have a lovely time with your grandchildren.”

As we left I thought about what the woman said.

Autism is often invisible.  With many children they have no discernible signs of physical issues, they look healthy, they seem “normal”.  Unless one tried to engage Emma in conversation, one would never know there was anything amiss.  Even then, I’m surprised by how often people still don’t know.  We have such a wide range of what we deem “normal” in human behavior.  I think people assume they are speaking to a neuro-typical child and so it can take awhile before they discern that they are not.  In Emma’s case she also can appear shy or perhaps people assume she’s one of those children who hasn’t been taught to be “polite” and answer when spoken to.   Many of us find it confusing to see someone who “looks normal”, only to find there are deeper neurological issues lurking.  Most people think, when first meeting Emma that she’s aloof or bored.  Sadly, many people assume she hasn’t been brought up properly and so they become rude or scolding, speak to her harshly, before I can intervene.

So what exactly is normal?

I don’t know.   But I’m not convinced it’s anything I aspire to.

Emma eating lunch at camp

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

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.”