As a society, we Americans have narrowed our definition of “normal”. Everyone has to fit into our normal, and at the same time ever-changing, standard of behavior or bear the inevitability of being labeled.
I do not dismiss the fact that raising an autistic child is profoundly challenging and that it is frequently very painful for parents and caregivers to observe andbe impacted by the child’s obvious psychic, emotional and physical pain.
Theories abound about why we have so many children being classified or identified as autistic in the past couple of decades. It is interesting to me that despite the fact that we are ‘narrowing’ our definition of normal, we are at the same time broadening our understanding of behaviors that fit into the autistic spectrum.
My fear is that we are slipping over an edge that may have significant repercussions for our young people. Out of fear of being classified as abnormal we are putting additional pressure on all our children and youth of conform to what they are told is ‘normal.’
For instance, a child who is introverted, quiet, prefers solo activities, doesn’t like sports or competitive endeavors, and is focused on a particular area of interest may be placed on a behavioral spectrum that includes Aspergers. In the 1970’s that youngster might have been viewed as ‘quirky’, independent, and a bookworm!!
The child now being labeled as having a ‘disorder’ is identified as different and is treated differently by his or her peers and adults in school, church, family, and so on. Clearly there are children who are within the Aspergers spectrum, as defined by educators and psychologists, but are they broken? Is it important for us to pressure them to be ‘normal’. Does the pressure of having to change their behavior to fit into the ‘normal spectrum’ exacerbate their ‘abnormal’ behavior?
What if you were being told that you were not normal because you are left-handed? Left-handedness was clearly considered abnormal in the 1950’s and earlier. Those children who were naturally left-handed were ostracized and forced to write with their non-dominant hand in order to not be aberrant. This then led to bed-wetting, stuttering and other difficulties because of the increased pressure to change what to them was a normal way of being.
There are some TV shows I love. One of them is Bones. What if Bones were a ‘normal’ person? The show would be boring, right? She adds a flavor to the life of this medical mystery that would otherwise render it humdrum. If she were a young person in a school today she would likely be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. Would someone try make her more socially acceptable at the price of her brilliance?