We are all unique individuals and trying to slot people into a certain group or label simply doesn't work, because, of course, there is no universal normal. This is part of mother-of-two Rachel Szostek's powerful message on the Love What Matters Facebook page.
Szostek's son J was born with autism and through her experiences with him and her other son, she wants to change society's mindset on "being normal" versus being "abnormal." To highlight her point, she included a photo in her letter of Baby J wearing a T-shirt with "normal" written across the front.
"In birth class, they tell you that the arrival of a baby means you will have to adjust to a new normal. What I wish they had told me was that there is no such thing as normal in the first place. It's just a setting on the washer. Our son is different. He has autism, and many see that as abnormal. There is nothing abnormal about my son — he is human, and that is about as normal as we all get. I am neurotypical, but sometimes I do abnormal things like set the kitchen on fire accidentally (NOT a cook). Baby J is neurotypical, but boy his tantrums push me to the edge. And Mr. J is neurotypical, but OH MY GOSH can't remember anything to save his life. This is all normal. These are all variations of normal. J has limited verbal abilities. He likes to line toys up. He enjoys bouncing for hours on end. J is the kindest human being you will ever meet in your life. When J is happy, it is infectious because he shouts with joy at the top of his lungs–no matter where he is. J is normal. It's time to stop pushing for a universal norm and instead celebrate our differences. Our culture is better when we let everyone have a voice. We learn different perspectives, understand that love and hurt are universal. We begin to understand that how people interpret the world is NOT universal. My two boys have completely different perspectives about nearly everything, but they love each other so fiercely they fall asleep touching every single night. Because normal is what you make it. There are people in this world who think kids with disabilities are a lost cause; that our resources shouldn't be spent on costly therapies or expensive educational supports. I am here to tell you differently. Three years ago, my son cried all day. Screamed at the top of his lungs. Never slept. But we didn't give up. We loved him, we listened to him, and we learned to respect his differences. We let him lead. We let him show us his normal. And the crying stopped. He started sleeping. He started smiling. He started interacting. He started talking. Five years ago, I used the 'R-word.' I judged parents based on how I thought their kids were acting. I thought of autism as a horrible disease and the most devastating diagnosis a child could receive. But then I had J. Because my normal now encompasses a whole lot of difference, I look at the world with a more patient and more tolerant perspective. Imagine if everyone did this. Imagine if special needs families did not have to fight for resources or relief because we celebrated them and supported them. Normal isn't about forcing someone into a mold, though that is what we have made it. So let's redefine normal. Let's make normal a spectrum of ability that celebrates all kinds of differences. Let's shift some paradigms and stop talking about what "should" be and start accepting what 'is.'"
The post is really resonating with other parents of children with autism, and even teachers who are also discussing how they try to do away with a universal norm in the classroom. One commenter wrote, "As a special education teacher, I love this point of view. No mold should ever be built for children with differing abilities. Everyone's normal is different and that is a blessing to be celebrated."
Another said, "I teach high school English and one thing I try to stress to my students is to be careful using that word 'normal' as a way to describe something or especially, someone."
She concluded, "What's 'normal' is all relative."