Autism awareness. . .What is normal?

This week we have been hearing a lot on the Autism Awareness front.  Autism rates have been increasing greatly over the last 10 years and the one thing that has been proven to help, whereever the child lands on the spectrum, is early intervention and awareness. 

What is normal?  Can we expect parents to know?  Even with the multitudes of checklists and development charts and books available to today's parents our observations are still subjective to our experience, our circumstance and our expectations.  One family's normal may be another family's odd.   A mom I met online this past year said one day, "Normal is a setting on the dryer."  And yet the trend today in family centers and community programs is an emphasis on early intervention and that is based on parents seeking help for children who seem to not be developing normally in some way.

The question is how do we gently encourage parents to 'see' the traits in toddlers that may lead to difficulties down the road?  And how do we reconcile the help of early intervention with the theory that a parent who finds out their child has special needs experiences stages of grief similar to when someone dies. (Dr. Kenneth Talon's book on Reading page)  The last thing a child with special needs needs is a parent going through denial, anger, blame, or depression.  From a school standpoint it would be best if we could all just skip to acceptance.  I don't know if that is even possible, but it would stand to reason that both parents and teachers being aware of the stages could seriously help the home school relationship.  I am betting there are many educators out there who would be a lot more understanding of the angry finger pointing parent, if only they knew it was part of a process.  If they knew the parent likely points the finger inward and blames herself as much as she seems to blame the school, wouldn't they be more sympathetic and willing to help? 

And what about that parent who seems to have no idea her child is developing differently?  Does she really not notice?  or Is she in denial?  Is it possible to push or lead a parent toward acceptance more quickly?  Should we try?   Should we be waiting till a parent comes to it on her own? Should we wait till the child begins having trouble at school?  Acceptance may be a long way off if a parent is left to figure it out on her own.  Should we be looking at why some children have such a difficult time succeeding in school?  I know that at another school setting working by another set of norms was the answer for my son, here he is normal.

And then I wonder why it is so important to say a child is not developing normally, when we all know there really is no one single normal?  Why do we assume because more children tend to develope a particular way that it is the right way.  I wonder how much easier it would be if teachers and schools not only accepted that every child is different, that every child needs a different set of tools to build success, and that every child has strengths that will provide them a place in this world, but that schools had the tools, understanding and support system to teach the children from whatever state of normal they are in at that moment.  Would parents and therefore families and children experience that same grieving process if there was no sense of normal to mourn?

I have added some resources to the reading page that I think are important and helpful


spryngtree said...

I found your blog through Gillian, I'm really enjoying reading it, and thought I'd let you know. This entry really resonated with me. I have two kids on the spectrum and the line between "normal" and Autism constantly confuses me. I think my kids are developing normally for kids whose brains are wired the way they are.

Amy said...

Thank you for taking time to respond. It is so helpful to me to hear what resonates wuth other parents, because I am basically writing from my reality-my normal-and hoping that someone out there in cyberspace can relate to my experiences and ideas :)

Anonymous said...

You ask many fine questions. As a parent of an autistic child who received her own diagnosis afterward, I must say that our initial response was disbelief.

High IQs are predominant in our family. Our son showed signs of extreme giftedness right next to a speech/social delay. It was tempting to dismiss evaluations.

What helped us most was the attitude of service providers.

Ultimately, positivity is essential. When reflected back at us, we thrived. The team members who helped us achieve the most success were the ones who focused on his strengths.

Therapy framed as a benefit or support as opposed to a obligation also helped. I can understand people who feel a double loss of control when a diagnosis is received and a therapy schedule is thrust on them. Allowing people a choice of beneficial services might help.

Thank you for the thought provoking read!


Amy said...

Thanks for reading Lori! What you say about positivity is so true, that is probably the single most important change the new program brought to us. The old school was bogged down in negativity-and blinded by my son's lack of apparent speech issue (though he has pragmatic speech issues-)--it took us till gr 2 to get him any help and a year more to get a really appropriate positive setting. Now I am working toward creating a home environment that is more positive. And your mention in one of your posts about emotional regulation--that piece really has thrown people off -so good to hear you talk about this piece!