"Coming to terms with Normal"
This is my 3rd year participating in Blogging Against Disablism Day. Disablism is a term used to describe discrimination against persons with disabilities. The main focus for Blogging Against Disablism Day is to point out some of the challenges that face individuals with disabilities, as well as to raise awareness about various disabilities. To find links to read and enjoy the post from others in support of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008, please go here. To read my posts from 2007 and 2006 (about Discrimination and the Challenger League*) go here and here. To understand more about the term "Disablism", please read the piece, "One in Seven" by Lady Bracknell.
This year, I want to tell you about a 5 year journey I’ve had in coming to terms with the word “normal” and how that word now applies to my handicapped child.
Definition of normal: According to norms or rules; Usual; ordinary; Healthy; not sick or ill.
When you become the mother of a child with special needs, the word “normal” suddenly becomes a dirty word. It is a reminder of the normal life you’ve now lost and a description of what your child is not. In order to put less emphasis on the word normal, many parents of special needs children often refer to “normal” children as being “neuro-typical.” To me, changing the name or phrase doesn’t take away the reality.
Our Jenelle is now 5 and ½ years old. We’ve been living with the realization of her special needs for 5 years now. In these 5 years, I feel I’ve come full circle in coming to terms with her disability, and with the true definition of what normal really means to me.
“According to norm or rules” – This part of the definition of normal happened for us very early on with Jenelle’s disability. There are milestone markers to be met by an infant (rules) and she clearly wasn’t meeting them. This was our first taste with those words, “not normal.” Because she was just a few weeks old, it was hard to come to terms with it. She wasn’t meeting the norm, and yet we had no reason for it. No answers. She still had a lot of growing to do as well. I think in the beginning, special needs parents can often fool themselves into thinking that “normal” is still a possibility for their child. The reality is that it is not.
The day we took Jenelle home as a baby, we were under the impression that everything was fine. On that day she was a “normal” child; a very good and very quiet baby. Milestone markers are there for a reason, and eventually the fact that she wasn’t reaching her milestones was hard to ignore. Milestone markers are there to raise attention to possible problems with an infant. When Jenelle failed to meet the 6 week milestone of supporting her own weight, we began to realize that there was something wrong, and definitely not “usual” or “ordinary” about our child.
“Healthy, not sick or ill” – this is the most misleading part of the definition because our Jenelle was healthy, and definitely not sick or ill. She just wasn’t meeting her milestones. How could that be unhealthy? I think the hardest part of “normal” for me were her first test results. As we searched (and continue to search) for some answer to why our child is the way she is, each and every test result was normal. The only exception was the EEG. The EEG was abnormal (finally something to show we weren't crazy!) It confirmed she was having seizures. Persons with epilepsy can look very normal, and yet epilepsy can be a very debilitating disability. And in a weird way of looking at it, that abnormal EEG was normal because it confirmed she was having seizures! It is normal to have an abnormal EEG when you have seizures!
I have never been one to wince at words like “abnormal,” “mentally retarded,” or “handicapped.” These words to me are descriptive of what my child is like. For our family, a “normal” dinner consists of my eating with one hand while holding a syringe in the other to gravity feed Jenelle through her g-tube. We do this at our dinner table, at the mall, or at a restaurant. This act is “normal” for us as it has become part of our "usual" and "ordinary" routine. And that is everyday life with Jenelle.
As time goes on you eventually come to accept your child’s disability. Every special needs parent has to come to terms with mourning the loss of the perfect, normal child in their own way. I’ve learned that the paths in which one can take to come to accept the hand a disability has dealt them can be as different and as unique as the disability itself. Denial is a very safe place as coming to terms with abnormal is difficult. After the grieving, and the learning, and the heart ache, eventually comes acceptance. Eventually we learn to accept that our life is the way it is. Our life is normal to us, even if you have to twist the meaning in that definition to fit our circumstances. Once you find your own definition of normal, I think you’ve come full circle in dealing with your child’s disability. And life becomes normal again.
* As a follow up to last year, I wrote about starting a new Challenger Little League Team with our local league. If this is your first visit to our website since that post last year, please check out the video below of my Jenelle walking to first base! The Challenger Program we started is enjoying a very successful first year. Not only are the disabled children enjoying the game of baseball, they are simply amazing to watch. I am touched by the lessons the “Neuro-typical” kids are learning from the Challengers. If your local league does not have a Challenger Program, I encourage you to look into starting one. The gift from being involved in this experience is simply amazing, as a parent and as a volunteer.