Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Evil N-Word

I have three normal children, and one autistic child.

 *waits for flying bullets*

I'm not supposed to use that evil N-word am I.   It's offensive to some people I think.  Maybe even politically incorrect...?

Something I have noticed in my journey as a mum to an autistic boy, is that the word 'normal' seems to be quite taboo.  This has truly perplexed me.  'Neurotypical' has become the commonly accepted substitution.  But when you really look at the definitions of both those words, they essentially mean the same thing.  It really has left me scratching my head in wonder, how 'normal' has become such an offensive word in our circles.    It seems to be spat out in disgust whenever it is spoken by some parents of special needs kids, and even some professionals.  Or accompanied by a mocking sneer, or maybe a pious shake of the head .... there is no such thing as 'normal'.  I remember being asked, back at university when I was studying Psychology, during one tutorial exercise, to define it.  The whole class struggled.  Some of us even came to the conclusion that there really was no such thing as 'normal'.

I'd like to assert that yes, there is.  Otherwise the word wouldn't exist.  But 'normal' can mean a number of things - on that point, I fully agree.  It is relative. Neither is it set in concrete, but 'normal' can be quite fluid, changing as seasons and social habits change;  adjusting as new knowledge is found and new attitudes arise.  The Oxford Dictionary definition states that 'normal' is an adjective, meaning 'conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected'.   When talking about normal children, that would imply they meet their milestones around the expected time and in the typical or usual way.  It might mean they respond to social and environmental cues as one would expect.  That when we look at them, we see an overall picture of a regular kid.  Oh, there will be differences here and there, but what we see fits into the overall range of the typical.  When I think about my son, I find that in some ways he is normal, but in most ways he is definitely not.  The one thing that normal doesn't mean, however, is uniform.

'Neurotypical', is actually a blending of two words;  Neuro - relating to the nerves or nervous system, of which the brain is a part;  and Typical - having the distinctive qualities of a person or thing.  So interpreting that, neurotypical really just means that the nervous system and brain express the qualities we would usually expect to see in a person.  What is, in other words, normal.

So the question begs to be asked; why is the word 'normal' so taboo?  Are we really so ultra-sensitive as parents that we can't cope with knowing our precious and special bubba is not (..gulp..) normal?  I don't know... I just think that trying to do away with that evil N-word is really just another way to lump every kid into the same category.  And if that is not unfair, I don't know what is.  Our children are what they are.  Some are normal, some are not.  But each one of them is, nonetheless, different.

Just to reiterate what I mentioned above, just in case you missed it:  Normal does not mean uniform.

It doesn't mean, clone copy.  It doesn't mean, exactly the same.  It doesn't mean zero variation.  There is plenty of room for uniqueness and quirkiness in what we expect to see as normal.  Even identical twins have their differences.

So it really bothers me when people poo-poo kids that are normal.  It bothers me in much the same way as when people poo-poo kids with disabilities.  There is this whole mocking attitude that I have come across at various times in various places ... Oh, I prefer different.  I prefer special.  Who wants normal anyway.  Normal is so boring *haughty sneer*.  No it's not.  Normal children are just as unique and precious as the ones who don't align with what is normal.

I have both types.  And each one is precious in their own unique way.

Sometimes I think these attitudes come from parents who are hurting so deeply, that they have trouble really accepting that they have a child who doesn't conform to normal.  An emotionally defensive mechanism perhaps?  Or parents who may have experienced some real and nasty discrimination because of their child.  This type of hurt, I can understand.  I get it.  I really do get it.  When I came to realise that my beautiful and perfect-in-my-eyes son was autistic, I grieved.  My heart was absolutely shattered.  This is my right as a mother, and I defy anyone to challenge me on that right.  It doesn't mean I am selfish, or narrow-sighted, or anything like that.  Don't even try to throw that one at me.  I don't know any parent - not one - who hopes or wishes for their child to be autistic.  Or to have any other special needs for that matter!  Not one!  If you know someone like that, please have them message me, because I'd love to know the psychology behind such a desire.  Going one step further, every parent I have met who does have a child on the spectrum - adored, cherished and treasured - has expressed hesitation and even fear at having more children, just in case they too are on the spectrum!  

No.  What I have seen is that expecting parents at best assume they will have, or at worst just hope, for a child who is healthy and - yes - normal.  Nobody really expects to have a child with a special needs, and, lets be honest, nobody wants to!  It always happens to someone else, doesn't it?  And so if you do get one like that, you grieve.  Deeply and sometimes for the rest of your life.  So I know what that hurt is like.  But I also know that poo-pooing normal kids is not the way to soothe a shattered heart.  I think that trying to deny the existence of a normal standard in children - in humanity - is really a form of discrimination.

In the past I have used that N-word very carefully in my blog. But from now on, I will use it unashamedly.  No intention to offend anyone, but I am not sorry either.

I have three normal children and one autistic child.  Each one is different, and I love them all completely and uniquely.


Thursday, March 7, 2013


I always knew he would be the sort of boy who would just do things when he was ready.  There would be no rushing him.  Over two years of speech therapy, early intervention and other assorted sessions, and nothing.  We quit speech therapy, it wasn't working for him; early intervention ended due to him being school age; all we were doing was some occasional OT through the holidays, biding the time till school began.  Then suddenly, one day, shortly before Christmas......

"Dubbedah.....dubbedah...dubbedah...."  His croaky voice floated around the house as he experimented with some new phonetics.  "Dubbedah...dubbedah...dubbedah....".  I followed the sound of his voice to find him.  Whenever he makes a new sound or produces a new phonetic, I like to jump on the opportunity and repeat it back to him.  Finding my boy, I knelt down to his level and repeated this new 'word' to him.  Slowly, a smile spread across his gorgeous face.

"Dubbedah, dubbedah, dubbedah..."
"Dubbedah, dubbedah, dubbedah!"

Back and forth we spoke, his smile growing wider until he began to chuckle, that cute little bit of saliva dribbling down his chin the way it does when he's building up to a big belly laugh.

Over the next few days, I heard this word a lot.  Whenever I could, I would repeat it back to him, bringing his attention to this new sound his mouth was making.  After a little while, I thought I might attach some new words to the end of the string.

"Dubbedah, dubbedah, dubbedah-daddy!  Dubbedah, dubbedah, dubbedah-mummy!"

He would echo me, trying his hardest to produce the different word on the end.  It. Was. Amazing!  The whole family noticed.  All his sisters got excited every time they heard him speaking these words.  Baby Miss - not so much a baby anymore - even developed her own version of Talking Tom (you know, the iPad app where the cat echoes what you say?).  She'd make different sounds and noises, even just laugh, and her brother would do his best to echo her.  It was one of the most beautiful interactions I've ever seen among my kids.  They'd go back and forth this way for ages, until they both collapse in a puddle of dribbly giggles.

Over the next few weeks, this nonsense word - dubbedah - became a prompt for all kinds of new words and sentences.  Not that he could echo accurately every time, but he was trying - really trying! - and that was amazing in itself.  Sometimes, he didn't even need to have dubbedah preceding a sentence before he would echo.  At this point, he has almost dropped it altogether, but the echoing - blessedly - continues.  One afternoon, I was even able to get him to echo 'bye-bye Tayta' when leaving my mothers' house.  She nearly burst into tears with joy at hearing these precious, amazing words, from my son.  It doesn't matter that it was just an echo to him, and that he does not yet attach meaning to most of those words.  He said them!  And oh, how sweet they are coming from his mouth :)