8 Words That Changed How I View the Word 'Normal' After My Daughter's Autism Diagnosis

“Normal” is such a weird word. To me, it has connotations of boring, unexciting, run-of-the-mill. I would never want to be referred to as “normal” — I feel it is bland, safe and average. But “normal” can also mean the center, the equilibrium, the thing that always happens, nothing bad, nothing too extreme, just the everyday stuff that goes on. I always felt that “normal” was some badge of acceptance, that you have managed to achieve a middling level of human ability; you were not odd, you were not different, you did not stand out, and in my naive young mind, I thought that everyone’s “normal” was the same. That everyone was striving to be the same “normal,” that we were all connected to a collective brain that pulled and pushed us to conform. That there was a “normal” ideal that we were all striving for, and any deviation from this goal was wrong.

The day our daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will forever be etched in my memory, a date in the diary that will ping with recollection as each year goes by — but I will also remember one key phrase the consultant uttered. This phrase was like an illuminated neon sign in a sea of muted words, ideas, strategies and diagnoses that would require many weeks and months for them to be truly understood. That simple, life-changing phrase was: “Your normal will not be anyone else’s normal.”

In those eight words, he summed up a mantra by which I can live, subtly confident in our own abilities, suggesting that molds would be broken, rulebooks rewritten and our own furrow ploughed. It was the light-bulb moment that no, what is “normal” for us is most definitely not “normal” for others. And guess what, there is nothing wrong with that (if only I could go back in time and tell my teenaged self that). He was basically telling us that the way in which we do things to accommodate the strengths and challenges of our wonderful girl on a minute-by-minute basis will most definitely set us apart from how other people behave. From letting her eat vegetables first, then protein, then carbs, ensuring there is exactly half a teaspoon of hot chocolate powder on top of the hot chocolate, to our “in” and “out” trays for homework, to the visualization of a venue we have never visited before, to the bedtime routine that may seem odd to others, that is our “normal.” Our “normal” suits us; it has been lovingly crafted, put to the test many times, reworked, adjusted and continually tweaked. Our “normal” is what works for us, and I couldn’t give a monkey’s if it is seen as “abnormal” by others. I’m pretty sure their “normal” would seem “abnormal” to us. For the first time in my life I can safely say that I’m happy with “normal.”

Follow this journey on Coloring Outside The Lines.

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