What is Normal?

20 07 2012

Not long ago I was sitting in a class for mentors in the school district where I work, and I heard a woman introduce herself as the special education coordinator for elementary schools in our district.  This peaked my interest, as just a month or so earlier, we found out that Cameron has Sensory Processing Disorder (or Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Integration Disorder—my research is pointing more to Sensory Processing Disorder now, so that’s what I’ll use).  When I had the opportunity, I asked her about different classroom supports that she’s seen for kids like Cameron.  She asked me a few questions about him before saying, “Are you sure he’s not really, really high on the spectrum?”  For those of you not in the world of special education, she was asking me if I was sure he didn’t have a very high-functioning form of autism like Asperger’s Syndrome.


My world stopped for a moment as I recalled all of the (in hindsight, maybe a bit excessive) things I’d done to try to make sure my child didn’t end up with autism. In my state of new-momness, I was certain that autism could be caused by food allergies in combination with immunizations– this was based on my own theories, combined with some of my research and friends’ theories and discussions.  Some of the things I’d done to “prevent” autism in my son included: a different schedule for immunizations in order to lessen the doses of medicine shoved into my baby at once, home-making all (every single jar) of his baby food so I knew exactly what he was taking into his body, being hooked up to a breast pump for hours upon hours-probably weeks of my life when added together- so he could have breast milk because even after several visits with a lactation consultant, I felt like I was being electrocuted every time his tiny baby-bird mouth came within a few feet of my upper-lady parts… The list goes on.  And here is this lady who asked me a few questions about my child- who I had looked over with a fine-toothed comb looking for an answer to his “odd” behaviors- and then has the audacity to “diagnose” him with high-functioning autism?!  Seriously?


I did what every reasonable person does, which was say I wasn’t sure about that, keep it together for the rest of the class, walk calmly to the car, get in the car, focus on pressing the accelerator slowly without panicking, and call Kelly.  Kelly is one of my best friends who had been as crazy as I was about “preventing” autism in her children, who worked at an “Early Autism Project,” so she knows her stuff about autism, who is Cameron’s Godmother (not to be confused with his Fairy Godmother, because he has one of those too), and who knows me better than most of my family.


“Does Cameron have f-ing autism?  And how did I, special education teacher and paranoid mother, not realize that?”  In her calm way, Kelly said, “Don’t you remember when you called me and described his behaviors and I told you he sounds like a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome?”  No!  I didn’t remember that!  How in the hell did I not remember her saying that to me?!  She went on, “You had the evaluation by the child psychologist, and she would have found it if he had it.” Sure, but she also said he had ADHD, which is no longer what we think is happening here.  “If he does have it, it’s so high-functioning that it’s undiagnosable,” she said.  I can still remember where I was driving when I realized that my son could be borderline Asperger’s.  I tried not to cry, I tried not to blame myself for somehow missing something, and I tried to realize that this label, or lack thereof, didn’t change Cameron from who he had been earlier that day; it was truly just another “thing” that could help us understand him better.  And it has.


I do not think that Cameron has Asperger’s Syndrome, but I sometimes think he does exhibit some characteristics of someone who does, so perhaps he is “borderline” Asperger’s.  At least that’s what I like to say when I see his socially awkward behavior.  Like when he went outside to play not long ago and yelled, “Our dog is going to die soon!” to his friends.  Or when he recalls facts from his library books (usually chosen in some sort of theme- we recently had an Abraham Lincoln phase, a football phase, and a Machu Picchu phase) verbatim.  Literally, my husband Jon was reading out of a book last week and stopping in the middle of sentences, and Cameron was finishing the sentences correctly most of the time.  Or how he pulls random facts out of midair, like, “Dad… Did you know that Abraham Lincoln’s ghost is actually very friendly?  He always knocks before he goes in.” Or even how whenever he practices football- as he currently plans to be a football player when he grows up- he has to put on all of his “gear” (mouth guard and helmet) before he can play while his friends wait somewhat patiently for him.  He really hates to play without gearing up first.


Regardless of which labels Cameron does or does not have, he is who he is, and it’s as simple as that.  He’s smart, capable, funny, and “normal” in all the ways a 7-year-old should be- that is, he fights incessantly with his sister and is totally into inappropriate potty humor. But who are we to say what’s “normal” anyway?





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Parham Eftekhari

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