Words are powerful. So powerful.
A few months ago I was speaking to someone who I admire greatly. This person was just getting to know Drake and understand him. We were chatting about how amazing he is doing in school and how much he has progressed in a very short amount of time. It was an amazing conversation. There were lots of smiles and I think my eyes even welled with tears. Then she said, "sometimes he seems so normal, like you would never know anything is different."
I distinctly remember pausing for a moment. I imagine I turned my head a little, sort of like a dog does when they are trying to understand something you're saying to them. I think she noticed the change because she then said, "I don't mean that in a bad way." I smiled and said, "I understand."
I do understand. I understood exactly what she was saying. In certain situations and during certain times...Drake doesn't appear to be different than any other child. In other words, he can blend right in.
For some reason, I cannot get those words out of my head. I've thought of them often. I've thought of them so much that it's helped me to recall the times that I have thought those same words.
He looks so normal.
The words make me cringe. Not because she said them, because I've had to admit to myself that I've thought them too. I know for a fact that I've never said them out-loud, because saying them out-loud would make me a horrible person somehow.
This morning while I was drinking my coffee I thought about the conversation again and decided to look up the definition. I read it probably twenty times...
Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected
The first and only thing that jumps out at me when reading the definition is 'conforming to a standard.'
This is the struggle that autistics all over the world face daily. They are expected for conform to a standard. Anything outside of that standard is considered different, strange, unusual, or wrong. No one actually says that, because saying that would be awful. Instead, we say things like, "he looks so normal when he does x,y,z." Perhaps you are like me and you haven't said it....but you've thought it.
You know those times:
He sat in a restaurant quietly and even ate some of his meal.
He played on the playground with some of the other kids.
He said "hello" without needing a prompt.
He sat through a whole movie at the theatre.
He sat with us at the dinner table through the entire meal.
He was completely engaged during our craft time.
We went to a family gathering and he didn't become overwhelmed.
All of those things are things a "normal" kid can pull off most of the time, right? So when our kids are able to do these things...we consider it a huge success. Wow, look at the progress he/she is making. But in our minds, we sometimes think... "wow, he looks so normal."
Even typing those words gives me a small panic attack. Why? Because I don't want Drake to ever hear that his normal isn't okay. All of the things I listed above, Drake has done...like the absolute boss that he is. Therapy has been a huge part of helping him to be able to handle himself in otherwise uncomfortable situations. However, never once have I taken him to a therapy session in hopes that it would make him what society considers normal. I take him to those therapy sessions so that he can understand how to cope with a society that doesn't understand him. And while I have been guilty of letting words like, "that seemed normal," cross my mind. I am sickened by the fact that my brain sometimes thinks things that my heart doesn't agree with. Being autistic is Drake's normal. Because his brain works differently than mine, that doesn't mean I am more normal than he is. I feel like many times autistics are expected to be chameleons. They are expected to act, behave, or handle themselves just like everyone else. It's okay for them to be different, but they need to change to suit the needs of those of us who are more typical.
Thats why there are always harsh looks in Wal-mart when your kid has a massive meltdown because his senses are in overdrive. Those onlookers don't understand autism. They want to see the chameleon version. So what do they do? They assume that your child is unruly and needs discipline.
Somewhere along the way, we as a society have learned to see things a certain way. When we see something that is different, we don't know how to respond to it. When society sees a six year old flapping his hands or squealing with excitement, they see a child who isn't like their child. What they are missing is the joy. When they see a child totally overwhelmed by a situation, they choose to pass judgement on the parent. What they are missing is the flashing lights, the echos in the room, and the strong smells.
While I think therapy has been crucial in helping Drake be more comfortable in a world that doesn't understand him, I never want him to think his normal isn't okay. Normal is just a word in the dictionary. I think it's time we all realize that normal has many different variations and learn to accept those variations instead of always searching for chameleons.