It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am certainly feeling all of the love and joy in the air. With all of these positive emotions swirling, I wanted to share a post about self-love and truly embracing our unique attributes that make us all different and special.
Our center has been booming with new families lately, and many have been throwing around the word “normal”. I want my child to be “normal”. How can your programs help them be “normal”? I try my best to answer this question, because I know what they are asking, but the initial challenge is getting past that word, normal.
What is Normal?
First, I want to say that I would never use the word normal to describe a child, because that means the counterpart is abnormal. I don’t think being born with or without a disability makes someone normal vs. abnormal. The term we use in the special needs world is typical or neurotypical versus special needs or atypical (like the awesome Netflix show!).
Putting Normal into Context
When I looked up definitions of normal, here is the best one I found:
1. the usual, average, or typical state or condition.
On average, most children do not have a disability. However, the rates of disabilities are only increasing as time goes on. The average (what is “normal”) of those that are typical vs. atypical is changing. According to ed.gov, “(Last updated: May 2017) in 2014-15, the number of children and youth ages 3-21 receiving special education services was 6.6 million, or 13 percent of all public school students.”
Data from the CDC in 2011 estimates “15 percent of all American children to have some form of Developmental Disability, including Autism and ADHD.” The US census adds that “56.7 million people – 19 percent of the population – had a disability in 2010, with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe.”
The CDC’s most recent data on Autism Spectrum Disorders, reported in 2012, states that “1 in 68 children is diagnosed with ASD (1 in 42 boys).” Though they currently speculate that ASD “affects 1 in 45 children ages 3 – 17” according to a government survey of parent reports.
The New “Normal”
I know that was a lot of numbers and research to look over, but I gave all this for context. With nearly 20% of individuals having some form of disability and 1 in 45 children being diagnosed with ASD, our definition of normal is changing.
When I tell people I run a therapy center for children with autism, their initial response is often telling me about a family member with autism and asking for advice. Most people know about autism and understand the variety and differences that come with this unique diagnosis. While there is still advocacy and educating to be done, disabilities are becoming part of our new normal. All of the things that make us different are being more and more accepted. Our uniqueness, our challenges, our short comings – they all make us beautiful.
Okay, but will my child be normal?
This is a hard question to answer because here is what I want to say “yes… and no.” The characteristics of autism are likely going to be with your child their entire life, regardless of the numerous therapies in which you participate. I want to be clear, I do not mean this to limit your child. Every child is capable of great things, reaching new skills, and soaring to their fullest potential. Some may live independently, go to college, hold jobs at large corporations, become artists – whatever their dreams are to be. But they will likely always struggle in some areas, just like we all do. The support you are giving them now will set them up for success when they meet challenges in the future.
Some children on the spectrum will never talk, but technological advancements are allowing more and more individuals on the spectrum to communicate and live “normal” lives. Children on the spectrum may struggle to maintain friendships and find little joy in stressful, social situations. New applications and adult programs are helping foster social groups for individuals on the spectrum seeking emotional connection but who struggle initiating connection in social situations.
There are so many advancements, strategies and programs coming about every day that your child will find their normal. That may be different than what you are picturing now. I’m sure my parents never thought I would be running a business, blogging, and creating CDs for early childhood development – I was supposed to be a struggling musician, going from audition to audition in New York City. But my normal changed, and so will yours.
Finding Your New Normal
Give your child every opportunity you can. Try out new therapies, holistic approaches, group classes you think they might enjoy. There is no reason a disability should limit them from exploring every stretch of their imagination and resources. But also enjoy, and try to accept, what makes your child unique. Embrace their challenges and try to find the supports that will help them lead their best life. Strategies that will help them find their normal.
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