Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Mother, Am I Normal?"

Yesterday my eighteen-year-old son with autism was wiping off the kitchen counter. He stopped, blinked a few times and said, “Mother, am I normal?”

I looked up from my laptop, surprised. He’d never asked me such a thing before. We made eye contact. I scanned my brain files for the correct response.

“I mean, what does normal mean?” he asked. “Does it mean medium? Or good? Regular? Or average? Or ordinary?”

One of his favorite things to do is to search for the meaning of words . He’ll frequently ask me for definitions, and is especially interested in classifying words with similar connotations.

But this was a profound question he was asking. What DOES normal mean, anyway?

“I suppose normal means regular or ordinary. Average," I said.

I thought about my son in his early childhood. He would scream in frustration at his inability to communicate his wants and feelings. In those days, I was an overwhelmed young mother with small children, trying to deal with what felt like his crushing diagnosis of autism. I thought I wanted him to be “normal.” I couldn’t take him to a store without him having a terrible tantrum. People would stare in disgust, because his disability was not obvious from his appearance. To strangers, he was a disobedient child and I was his inefficient mother. I had to be trained by autism experts in how to manage the tantrums and to promote his language development. It was painful in those days to think of how his disability would impact his life.

Then I thought about how far he has come. Today, standing just under six feet tall, he is happy, kind, and immaculately groomed, friendly to everyone he meets. He grins to himself at his own little amusements, sometimes clapping and bounding across the room. Compared to my other children that the world might call “normal,” he is the most responsible, dependable, and tender-hearted. He’s an example to his younger siblings. I love each of my children immensely, beyond words. But there is something so special and profound about the child who struggled the most and--against the odds--came into his own respectable place in the world.

I continued, “But if normal means ordinary and average, then no, you are not normal. You are extraordinary. You are special. You are a miracle. You are SO much better than normal.”

And as I said it, I wondered if any of us should strive to be normal. Don’t we all aspire to somehow stand apart?

My son tilted his head and looked upward, rubbing his hands together happily. There was satisfaction in my answer. “Extraordinary,” he said.

8 comments:

Gabapple said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. :')

Will Strong said...

Amen sister. Who wants to be "normal" anyhow? Nobody "normal" ever changed the world. We can be so much better than "normal."

Bethany said...

After reading this, I am crying tears that have needed to come out for a long time. I'm not sure exactly which of your words found their way into my fortress, but thank you. I needed that.

- Bethany (mother of a socially delayed 3.5 year old)

Juliana said...

Hi Kristyn! I will be emailing you in a few minutes about Writing for Charity and stopped off at your blog first to get to know you better. (Although I have had a wonderful time singing "Middle Child Blues" to my children since Writing for Charity last year!)

Anyway, I'm so grateful that I happened to drop by right now. We just took one of my sons in for an Autism assessment. It's not clear whether he's autistic or not at this point, and if he is, it's on the borderline. Anyway, this post made me cry because I've had some of the same feelings with my son. In fact, I just blogged about this same subject: http://blog.geekuniverse.org/2011/01/twice-exceptional.html

I look forward to talking to you soon!

Wendy Toliver said...

This brought tears of happiness to my eyes. Thanks for sharing such a lovely story.

Melissa said...

What a great story. You are truly a super mom. My husband has an autistic brother and he is also a gem. He wrote us a letter for the first time ever, just this week, to let us know who won the super bowl.

CirclesofSeven said...

On a day when tears hide in my heart from wondering how fulfilled my 6 yr old, Autism Spectrum - Sensory Processing Disordered,"extraordinary" son will be when he is 18; I come across this blog - this entry....

Thank you. Walking with you, Always....Linda

Christy said...

That is so sweet. I love the line from Little Women. Marmee: Oh, Jo. Jo, you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?