The Myth of Being Normal

As the mom of a son who has been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, "normal" is a word that I downright avoid.
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Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what the word "normal" means. As a teenager, it was all I wanted to be. It was simply easier to be like everyone else. It entailed one set of rules to follow and that you were surrounded by others just like you. It was comfortable and safe. It was not being normal that meant being labeled different or weird. I would have no road map or historical data to refer to. It was that deviation from the status quo that felt so incredibly intimidating, isolating and scary.

As an adult, and after a series of unconventional events, I began to rethink my feelings on normal. Now, as the mom of a son who has been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, "normal" is a word that I downright avoid.

After going through many years and thousands of dollars of fertility treatment in the hopes of conceiving, I was incredibly grateful to find out we were finally expecting. When Michael, my son, was prematurely evicted due to my having cholestasis, he was not quite ready to come out. I always had prided myself on being a good host and Michael had made quite a home for himself in my uterus. Almost immediately after his birth, he needed to be intubated to help him breathe. After almost two weeks in the NICU, we were allowed to take him home on Superbowl Sunday -- the same year the New York Giants won. Of course, we gave my son complete credit for this victory.

Around the time that he was 15 months old, we noticed that Michael wasn't pointing, making much eye contact or saying as many words as he should be. After consulting with a pediatric neurologist, she diagnosed him as a high functioning child with "ASD,"Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

No one wants to hear this, but frankly, at that point in my life, I have heard a whole lot I didn't want to hear and it all worked out, regardless. I married my husband at the age of 34 (which in my Italian Catholic family is considered ancient). I conceived through In-Vitro fertilization (not a wild night and a glass of wine). Instead of getting gorgeous pictures of our son surrounded by family after his birth, we got pictures of him hooked up to wires and me leaning over his incubator looking worried and bloated. Now, we were being told that he would be "different," "unusual" and in effect, not normal. This is when I officially broke up with the word "normal" altogether.

Normal is standard, regular or typical. In other words, it's boring. Normal doesn't make for entertaining anecdotes or an interesting life. If anyone were to write my biography, I'm thankful that no one reading it would slowly drift off to sleep. Yes, it's been difficult and quite challenging at times, but I contend that really, no one's life is totally normal. There are just people in this world who do a better job of hiding things than others.

Given my options, more than just accepting this reality, I am now embracing it. I'd rather celebrate the uniqueness of my experiences and be the colorful character at the party as opposed to the person who says they have nothing new going on and quietly sips their cocktail.

Michael will be 3 years old in January and I'm very proud to say he has greatly benefited from early intervention. He is progressing well and excelling beautifully. He still has his quirks (as we like to call them), but that's what makes him who he is. He's funny, loving, social and fun. He isn't normal. He is exceptional and for that, I honestly couldn't be more grateful.

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