You seem so normal.
I have heard this statement repeated numerous times from friends, relatives, and random people. Sometimes they are referring to me, sometimes my daughters with autism and sometimes our family in general.
When my girls were diagnosed at the ages of three and seven, I thought people were just trying to make me feel better. When I was diagnosed on the spectrum a few years later, I thought people just said, “You seem so normal!” to be nice. As time has passed and life has marched forward, I have often pondered the word normal.
What is normal? Is anybody really normal?
I know what people mean when they say someone with high-functioning autism or Aspergers is normal. I found this out through an abrupt and odd comment made at a doctor’s appointment. I have had the same Ob/Gyn since I got pregnant with my first daughter in 2000. I was at this particular doctor frequently due to high risk pregnancies, fertility issues, and the fact that my children were all born less than four years apart (2001, 2003, 2005). Over the years I became acquainted with most of the office staff. We would exchange niceties and ask about families, vacations, school…you know, general conversation. At some point throughout my numerous visits, I revealed that two of my three daughters had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The first time the secretary just smiled and said something about autism becoming more common.
At a later visit, this same secretary asked how my children were doing in school. I made the comment they were all fine and enjoyed school. What she said back to me shocked and later offended me (after I thought about it). She said, “You know it is amazing what some people with autism can do nowadays. My friend has a son with autism, and he actually got a job! Can you believe it?” She went on to say that someone had also married him and that he had a child. Being my blunt self, I nearly shouted out, “Wow, that is amazing! I am autistic and I also have a job, children, and some poor soul married me!”
At that time, I didn’t tell many people that not only was I raising girls on the spectrum, but I am also a card carrying member of the same club. It is called a spectrum because just like a box of crayons, all autistics are different. Some of us are higher functioning, and some have more unique challenges.
It’s the whole idea of the word normal that really bothers me. You see for most of us non-typical types, there is a fine line between what society considers normal and what those on the spectrum consider normal. It takes work, patience, and a whole lot of frustration for individuals with autism to appear as normal as possible in certain social situations. Often it is not until we are in a safe place, with people who love and accept us where we can just be ourselves.
The best analogy I have ever heard regarding autistics trying to act normal is this, “You (autistic person) are like a duck on the water, on the surface you appear to have it all together, but underneath your feet are swimming like crazy trying to stay afloat.”
So here is my take on the whole normal thing: Just let those people on the spectrum that you encounter know it’s OK to NOT be normal.
Normal is so overrated!