Normal? No Thanks.

When we try to push our ASD kids into normal or NT behaviours, what does that mean?  After all there’s plenty of NT kids and adults I don’t want my children to act like.  Rude, aggressive, selfish, entitled, arrogant and smarmy, Ive met them all in kids as young as 6.  Yes to manners, and yes to impulse control, and focus skills, and even shared attention, some non forced eye contact and social awareness.  But using ‘normal’ as the benchmark when normal can encapsulate attention seeking or neuroticism or manipulation or extreme extroversion leads me question some of the fundamental aspects of focus in behavioural therapies.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not subscribing to the extreme position in the Neurodiversity movement that says therapies for people with Autism are wrong because they do not accept the person as is.  Actually I find that to be an appalling approach.  I mean NT kids get sent to school to learn the things they will need to one day hopefully gain employment and live independently.  Why on earth would I deprive my son of the same opportunites?  As I see it, the therapy he is doing now is preparing him for school and life beyond and it would be neglectful of me not to do so.

I also understand the value of children learning to make some eye contact even if minimal, to learn how to interact with others and to learn to manage their stimming behaviours.  I know the best chance our kids have of forming a friendship or two is by learning some social graces.  I have no problem with any of these life skills being taught.   But when the main goal of therapy becomes making my child ‘indistinguishable’, I wonder what type of normal the people who say that have in mind?

I also wonder if the push for normalcy is motivated by a historical legacy of fear of difference.  The psychology perspective tends to look at identifying and treating mental illness and it’s also the profession that has gained the most traction within the ASD treatment sphere.  While this is understandable since Autism is a behavioural diagnosis, I think it’s time to change some of the pathologising narratives.  It’s quite possible to do so, as social work ( a profession I was once part of ) does this well.  Acknowledging the challenges that come with any diagnosis yet looking at the individual in context and the multitude of variables that affect outcomes for people rather than seeing the person as a diagnosis to be fixed, full stop.

I don’t care if people can tell my child is different.  Deal with it people.  I am hoping I can convince him not to care either.  I know when he gets older he will have the cognitive awareness to work out he isn’t like the rest of the kids in his class.  But what I also want him to know is that all his classmates have their fair share of issues too.  There’ll be the kid who is overweight, the boy who cant play sport, the kid that cant keep up with the rest academically, the kid who acts out in class because he lives with violence at home, the kid that is always coming to school late and without lunch.  You dont have to have Autism to struggle to make friends, to be picked on, to be different.  Essentially we are all a bit strange, just some more than others.  And often the more normal the person the more dull in my experience.  I want my son to know that not being normal is cool, and he is totally loved and accepted for who he is.  This means not expecting ‘normal’ or indistinguishable’ from him.  That is an unfair expectation and I wont be party to it.

Sharon Morris blogs at The Tumultuous Truth.

Normal? No Thanks. appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

on 06/14/11 in featured, Society | 3 Comments | Read More

Comments (3)


  1. Rachel says:

    Excellent piece, Sharon. I wish there were more parents who feel as you do. I am fortunate to have met a number of them, but I always feel that those who embrace their kids’ differences are in the minority.

    So glad that Shift Journal has picked up your writing and your blog. I always enjoy your posts.

  2. farmwifetwo says:

    I always roll my eyes when people ND/cured throw around the word “normal”. As the saying goes “normal is a setting on the dryer”.

    Normal is IMO socially acceptable behaviour. We don’t throw temper tantrums, we don’t harm other people, we mind our manners, we speak politely to people, we compromise, we don’t expect others to do things our way and our way only. We aren’t rude, mouthy or ignorant to other people.

    Children with autism…. and NT ones…. need to learn these things. They need to learn appropriate social, behavioural and communication skills… autistic and NT children.

    Cured is these things, cured is being able to live independantly, having a family, getting a job. Cured and normal are not about getting brain transplants and changing how we think. Nobody is the same. Nobody thinks the same. Period. Normal and cured are something I have pretty much achieved with my nearly 12yr old. Cured I will not acheive with my 9 yr old, but we’re working hard on “normal” and he’s getting there…. “normal” in his world means not standing across the house and screaming at me when things don’t go his way. It means coming to me and either signing or saying “help please”.

    Oh…. and that cured and normal child went to camp last weekend and they forgot to get the mapquest directions for the trip home and had trouble reading it backwards. What to do?? The Scout leader said to that “normal and cured” child “how do we get home?” B/c sometimes having quirks or never forgetting how to get to or from someplace he’s been before…. comes in handy.

  3. Sharon says:

    Thanks Rachel. That means a lot.

    I know plenty of people who are neurologically normal and have appalling manners, are aggressive, self centred, arrogant and manipulative. Though would all be accpepted as normal. I agree that nobody is the same, this is why I ask the question, what normal are we working towards when instigating therapy for our kids? Whose definition of normal? And whats so good about normal anyway?

    I agree that all children NT or ASD need to to be taught how to be on the world. That is our role as parents. And why my son is in therapy. But your definition of cured is not the same as mine. If someone learns to manage despite their disability that does not mean the disability has miraculously disappeared. It means they developed enough skills to get by. It does not eradicate all their struggles and I find the idea that we should no longer make allowances for a child or adult once they pass some subjective definition of normal, unfair.

    The way I see it my sons brain is and always will be different from most others. I expect him to grow and learn and develop into a happy prodcutive human, but I do not expect him to emerge from his neurological difference and become the ‘normal’ that I and most others are. I am also fine with that. My sons health and happiness are my first priority, if that means fitting in to some extent then so be it, but I am happy for him to also embrace and celebrate his difference.
    Thanks for your comment. Despite our differences I always find what you have to say interesting.

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