This I Believe

Jessica - Canton, Georgia
Entered on April 9, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: children
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i believe normal is a cycle on a dishwasher.

pot scrubber, heated dry, heavy duty wash; all snazzy features on my maytag. pensive, precocious, particular; all characteristics of my autistic son, ryland. i still remember the day when the pediatricians started suggesting that ryland, my 18 month old son, may be autistic. they asked a barrage of questions including, “does he have any repetitive behaviors?”, “have you noticed any loss of speech?”, “does he have an aversion to certain tactile sensations?”, and “does he ever appear to be deaf?” we answered yes to all of the questions, honestly and without the foolish parental pride that can turn a blind eye to these behaviors as symptoms of a much bigger issue. since ryland was our firstborn, we thought that these were normal questions that doctors posed at well check-ups. naive and green, it wasn’t until ryland’s grandmother made the correlation between the questions and the eventual diagnosis, that my husband and i finally had to come to terms with the possibility that we may be raising a son with a “disability” – mind you, this well check-up was serving a dual purpose, as it was also our newborn’s one week check-up.

with my horomones oscillating after having given birth, learning to breastfeed all over again, and teetering on the liminality of the baby blues, it’s pretty safe to say that i was a mess. my husband was as well. quickly turning bewilderment into a desire to be informed, we did as much research and sought as many other opinions as possible. after a series of observations and evaluations, ryland was finally given the autism diagnosis on april 1st, 2003…just over a month shy of his 2nd birthday. ryland subsequently began receiving speech and occupational therapies, and even attended a special inclusion preschool which was designed to breed and foster a sense of social acceptance and normalcy. while this schooling concept was intended to be a very empathetic approach, i took issue with this “normal” word that was being tossed about, only to be interchanged with the equally confining term, “typical.”

ryland is an exceedingly bright, young 5 year old. he is the only kid in his kindergarten classroom that can read. his math skills absolutely astound his teachers. his ability to recite and recall almost anything he hears or sees only once is uncanny. he seeks out adult exchanges and the white coats are concerned. they believe that peer connections are the most vital, the most developmentally crucial, the most “normal.” but for a kid who is not supposed to be interested in other children, he has an unbreakable bond with his little brother. for a little boy who absolutely can not maintain eye contact, for it is almost painful for him, he has learned how to function not only in our family setting, but in a “typical” classroom setting as well. for a kid who has to have a routine or else he will fall apart at the emotional seams, he has learned how to bend and flex when necessary. for a kid who isn’t supposed to show emotions, he has spontaneously hugged me and told me he loved me…totally unprompted. for a kid who is not supposed to be able to explain what he wants, i believe he is not doing without.

in a world where normal is the watchword, ryland breaks the rules. normalcy is relative. normal is not impressive. normal is restrictive. normalcy is not to be celebrated. award shows do not honor normal performances, and halls of fame do not induct average joes. why then am i supposed to be striving to give ryland a “normal” life? the largest disservice i can do to such a sharp young boy is to dull his aptitude in exchange for social ease. in this attempt to make his life more comfortable, more vanilla, generic even…i am not appreciating how distinguishable ryland is, and how all of the unique traits that go along with his diagnosis are not damning. they set him apart from normal and give him an insight and a perspective that we “normal” human beings will never be apprised of. i will never pity ryland’s abnormality, in fact, i kind of envy it. so for my family, normal is only ever going to be a cycle on our dishwasher.