When I was a child, my father (who reads my blog, so I’m totally going to bait him a little) essentially brainwashed myself and my brothers to believe that the statement, “You are weird”, was a compliment. Dad, who I often refer to as a walking dictionary (because of his freakishly large vocabulary of freakishly large words) liked to teach us the meaning of words - sometimes in a thesaurus kind of way. Sometimes in a dictionary kind of way. (I knew the meaning of hyperbole when I was about eight, because dad liked to use hyperbole…a lot.) Weird was more a of thesaurus word from his alter ego, the walking thesaurus.
Being called weird is a compliment because it means you’re unique.
As I child, I think I often mentally rolled my eyes at Dad’s brainwashing. As a mouthy teen, I fought back with, “Yeah, I’m unique; just like everybody else.” (I think my intent was to irritate my dad, but somehow he thought - and still thinks - my response is hilarious.) But today I appreciate Dad’s perspective, which is confirmed quite nicely by Thesaurus.com if you look up weird and unique.
We are all weird!
As I’ve started talking about the process of getting Brandon assessed for developmental delays/disorders, something interesting has started happening. Friends and acquaintances that don’t know Brandon (or don’t know him well) listen to one or two of the reasons we’re having B assessed and jump in with, “Oh, my kid did that; that’s normal!”
This rubs me the wrong way and I feel like I have to justify what we’re doing even though I know that this is the right thing to do for Brandon to ensure he gets the absolute best start possible. And yet, I think the intent behind this statement is basically good. People want to reassure me that my son isn’t “abnormal” or somehow flawed.
Normal is relative
My beliefs about this process as it relates to my son can be summed up in three points that I shared on Kids in the Capital recently:
- Nothing is “wrong” with my son. He is exactly right just the way he is.
- Assessments are just a jargony way of saying you have to be creatively vigilant and diligent to learn how to reach a child in the way that works for them.
- I will do whatever it takes to help my son, because just as I get to share my stories in a way that works for me, I want him to find a way to share his.
My motivation behind getting him assessed is not to highlight all the things that are “wrong” with him. It’s to figure out how we can change what we’re doing so that our communication and behavior is right for him.
Put more simply, I want to know what I can change to help him. The assessments aren’t about changing him at all or making him more “normal”.
“Normal” is not interchangeable with “Norms”
Raise your hand if you have ever or know a parent who has ever compared their child with another child. Pretty much every person reading this in the western hemisphere should have their hand up (which kind of amuses me to imagine), because we ALL do it.
The problem with these comparisons is that not everyone knows what norms are. Often, what is within established norms is confused as “normal”. Having been raised by a walking dictionary, I often refer back to the dictionary for precise meanings:
Dictionary.com defines “norms” as follows (I skipped the lengthy math definition):
a standard, model, or pattern.
general level or average: Two cars per family is the norm in most suburban communities.
a designated standard of average performance of people of a given age, background, etc. (re: education)
a standard based on the past average performance of a given individual.
the greatest difference between two successive points of a given partition.
But what is “normal”?
Normal is complex and, in my opinion, completely relative to personal experiences. The dictionary definition of normal doesn’t address societal interpretations and connotations behind the word. Behavior that can appear normal for one person/child may seem completely out of left field for another.
Brandon is the only child I’ve had. We don’t get to be around other children very often. We had a sense that he was delayed in certain ways, but we erred on the side of “wait and see”. It wasn’t until his caregiver (who is around other children quite often) spoke up about her concerns about where he was at compared to children two years younger that we knew we needed to get him help.
I don’t need or want to be placated.
I have a plethora of specialists who are trained to spot areas that we can work to help Brandon. We know there are challenges to overcome. I’m trying hard keep a level head through this process rather than be an emotional basketcase.
Parents of children who are going through the assessment process already have enough doubts about our parenting abilities. It’s incredibly frustrating to do the instinctive things parents do and find they don’t work. Experimentation with methods that may seem to outsiders like coddling, spoiling, helicoptering and other negative terms can lead to judgment from others about our parenting abilities. That’s going to happen with strangers - there is absolutely nothing any of us can do to stop it.
But I hope that people who know me can recognize that, like any other mother (and father), we are doing our very best to do the right thing for our child. It isn’t unusual for even siblings to need different things from their parents.
It’s not inequality.
It’s parenting individuals.
Individuals who are weird.
So, I won’t tell you your kid is normal if you don’t tell me mine is, because who on earth wants to be normal? It’s much better to be weird.