When I took my newborn son for his first checkup, the pediatrician wrote a diagnosis on the form, some word that I didn’t understand. I asked what it was, and he said he wrote something in case my insurance didn’t cover “well visits.” (It actually did.)
More than a year later, I was sitting in the park with a friend and her sobbing 18-month-old, who had tears running down his cheeks. I said, “Oh, when did his tears come in?” She looked at me like I was crazy. I explained: “Michael hasn’t gotten his tears yet. When do those start?” When she said that her son’s tears had started in infancy, I realized that I had completely missed something that was abnormal about my son. Ironically, I later discovered that the word the doctor had written on the insurance form back when Mike was a newborn was Latin for “clogged tear duct.”
So when I read a story called “The Eccentric Side of Normal” that Sarah Darer Littman wrote for our book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum, I was reminded that no new parent knows what “normal” is. Sarah didn’t have the first inkling that her son Joshua might be atypical until she talked to her cousin Beth about Beth’s son, Ethan. Sarah explains, “We went out to a local restaurant, and later, after Ethan was in bed, I told Beth that although I knew Ethan had been diagnosed with autism, he seemed pretty normal to me. I asked her what symptoms should have clued me in.
“‘Did you notice how Ethan freaked out when we took a different route than we normally do to get to the restaurant?’ Beth asked.
“‘Well, yeah,’ I said. ‘But that’s normal. Joshua does that.’ If I took a different route than usual when driving Joshua to nursery school, he’d have a conniption in the back of the car. “No! Mummy! Not that way! The other way!’ This would be accompanied by kicking the back of my seat, waving arms and various ear-splitting sound effects. So to me, it was normal for kids to freak out if you went a different way than usual. It didn’t cross my mind for a nanosecond that perhaps ‘Joshua does it, so it’s normal’ wasn’t the correct conclusion.”
If I had heard about those little boys as a young mother I would have wondered what was wrong with my own preschooler, who had no sense of direction at all. As new parents, we’re lost too, unsure what our little ones are supposed to be doing at any given time. All we can do is keep our eyes and ears open and hope we get it mostly right. And who’s to say what’s “normal” anyway?
Joyce Rohe shares her story about “normal” in “Don’t Sweat the Stimmies.“