Saturday, March 19, 2011

Defining Normal

The first time I 'paid' attention to the word "normal" I was in middle school.  A teacher (who's name I can't remember) scolded a student for bouncing off the walls and running in the hallway and not "acting" normal.  Within seconds, the boy's expression went from fear to clueless as he shouted "this is normal!"  And for the first time, I understood that normalcy is a very personal thing.

According to the Webster's dictionary, normal is "conforming with an accepted standard or norm".  However, definining ones standard or norm is an idiosyncracy.  Defining normal, a way of behaving or thinking, is peculiar to an individual or group.  Everyones normal is different.

The second time I 'paid' attention to normality was when my son Joel was diagnosed autistic.  I knew I needed a new normal but accepting it wasn't as easy.  My new normal, however defined, was going to affect everyone in my life, especially my eldest son Joseph.  Needless to say, I made lots of mistakes along the way.  

I was haunted by two questions; How do I know what normal is for Joel? and How do I create normal for Joel? 

Unable to come up with an answer, I asked Joel's psychiatrist.  His suggestion involved a very daunting task but turned out to be sound advice.  He advised me to watch the behavior.  Noticed Joel's happy moments and his intense moments.  Learn what triggers his good and bad moods.  Be vigilent.

Sounds easy, right? No, it isn't.  As a matter of fact, it is difficult and heart breaking.  However, what I can tell you is that by following this simple advise, interacting with Joel became much more rewarding and his violent episodes diminished.  Once I was able to recognized the behavior, I was able to redirect.

Defining normal for me was learning that all behavior is communication and by focussing on his behavior I learned my son's needs, wants, likes and dislikes.  Yay!

If you get a chance, buy and read Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes you Knew by Ellen Notbohm.

I wish this book was around in 1997!

Wishing you success,

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