What is ‘Normal’?
I am struggling to define what ‘normal’ means when it comes to my children and their development. Sure, I’ve read all the ‘in’ guides on child development but what does it all mean? Particularly when your own children are not defined as ‘normal’?
My son is 7 and was diagnosed with albinism at 11 weeks of age and with high-functioning autism at 4 years of age. From a very early stage we were aware he was not ‘normal’ and would not reach development goals at the same age as others.
We were (and still remain) cool with this – he has a significant vision impairment as a result of his albinism and obviously has a range of social and behavioral difficulties associated with his autism diagnosis.
Despite these challenges, he is preparing to transition to a mainstream school next year, is learning to swim and play the piano and has made some genuine friendships with his classmates. His progress and his determination to succeed has made us proud!
My youngest daughter is 14 months and, so far, is meeting all her development milestones. Which is reassuring, but not a guaranteed indicator of a ‘normal’ future.
I’m not sure whether we over-analyze things because of our earlier experiences but there are times when she seems to be seeking stimulation and we worry that this may indicate some ‘abnormal’ behaviors down the track. But for now, she is doing really well and is much loved by both her brother and sister (and, of course, us too!)
Which brings me to my eldest daughter who is 5 and has no recognized diagnoses – yet. Rightly or wrongly, we always considered her our ‘normal’ child and initially we had no concerns about her development.
She did everything earlier than our son (as expected) and her daycare and pre-school carers never mentioned any concerns they may have had about any facet of her development.
However, in the last year or so we started to realize that everything wasn’t as it should be, especially as we looked at her potential readiness for school. Her speech wasn’t clear, she liked using made up words and she would often chew on her clothing and other inanimate objects.
Despite having been in daycare since the age of 1 she still had bouts of separation anxiety and while she seemed to be social with others she didn’t have any particular friends – or those she had were far younger than her.
So in the last year I have become BFF with Medicare as we navigate the health system to get some answers. We have undergone a variety of assessments and have seen several specialists to pinpoint what, exactly, is wrong.
So far we have seen an audiologist, pediatric ENT, speech pathologist, occupational therapist and the school counsellor and the results, so far, are inconclusive.
Her intelligence is above average but she has several sensory issues as well as an auditory processing disorder and we still have not got down to the bottom of her separation anxiety and nightmares.
Next up is the paediatrician who, we hope, can make sense of it all for us. We don’t necessarily want a label for our daughter but we do want to give her the best chance to succeed. We just need to know what we are dealing with in order to best help her.
There is a definite feeling of deja vu with all the visits to the same specialists who played a part in the diagnoses of our son. And accompanying this feeling of deja vu is an even stronger feeling of guilt and failure.
Why didn’t we pick up her difficulties earlier? Were we too wrapped up in our son’s difficulties to fail to notice hers? Are her difficulties genuine or has she learnt them from her brother? Are we over-thinking it all and becoming over-concerned and over-zealous parents?
I don’t have any answers, any answers at all. I am hoping to have a clearer picture of things by the end of this month, but I have a suspicion it’s not going to be that easy. All I know is that I am the last person in the world to ask what should be considered ‘normal’!
I love my kids desperately – all I want to do is help them make the best of themselves and become the best they can be. Personally, I don’t give a hoot if they’re ‘normal’ or not. As long as they are healthy and happy, that’s all that matters to me.
But I do often wonder at the emphasis in our society of ‘normal’ development and behaviour and the stigma attached to those that are not ‘normal’. For all our sakes, I do hope we all become a little more accepting of differences and learn to embrace the unique gifts of those who do not fit neatly into the litle box of ‘normal’.
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