49: Don’t Call My Daughter “Normal”

49: Don’t Call My Daughter “Normal”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Don’t Call My Daughter “Normal”

Normal is overrated.

~Cristina Marrero

“Your daughter’s autistic? Wow! She seems so normal!” This “compliment” is absurd to me. I realize it’s intended to make me feel better. After all, people think I’ll be thrilled to know that my daughter passes for “normal.” But every time I hear this statement I can’t help but think, “Normal? Oh God, I hope not!”

My ten-year-old daughter, Isabel, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when she was three. For years she had occupational therapy, speech therapy and social skills classes. I’ve done everything in my power to give her the tools she needs to be confident and succeed. And she’s thriving! But let me make one thing perfectly clear — my goal has never been for her to be “normal.”

I’ve seen “normal.” And I’m not interested. “Normal” can’t tell you the individual designs on every state quarter. “Normal” doesn’t suddenly decide to go by the name “Bob.” “Normal” doesn’t answer the phone in the British accent she has been practicing all week.

“Normal” is overrated and I won’t have it. Not in my house.

In fact, my twins are “normal” and I pay Izzy two dollars a week to teach them everything she knows. It’s part of her allowance: Make your bed, take out the trash, teach your brother and sister to be abnormal. When they start organizing their plastic dinosaurs according to dietary restrictions, I’ll know I’ve succeeded.

I’m “normal” and it took me forty years to get up the nerve to do what comes naturally to my daughter. To find a passion, speak my mind, and have the guts to go for what I want. Izzy knows she loves ducks. She loves everything about them (and can do a perfect imitation of a Scottish Wigeon). When she grows up she wants to work with ducks. Don’t even think about telling her “that’s silly” or that she should “perhaps consider dentistry.” Izzy isn’t paralyzed by what everyone thinks and I know enough “normal” people to know that that is definitely not normal. But because of it, the world is her oyster. Frankly, I’m jealous.

But you know what makes me the most jealous? You can’t suck up to Isabel. She likes you or she doesn’t. You’re worthy of her attention or you’re not. Sure, she knows how to be polite, but if you really want to be Isabel’s friend, flattery won’t get you far.

“You like my sneakers? They wouldn’t fit you. They’re for kids.”

“You think I’m pretty? Thanks. Pass the pretzels.”

I, however, am a pushover. I’ve befriended people simply because they say they liked my shirt. “Thank you so much! I got it at this boutique on Beverly. They have the cutest stuff. It came in green too, but I really liked the pink. Do you think it makes me look fat? I was worried my boobs looked too big in it. Can I have your number?” I’m paralyzed by my need to be liked.

Isabel isn’t. I think she’s got a future in Hollywood.

I wouldn’t change a thing about Isabel. Of course, I want her to be happy. But being happy doesn’t mean being normal. For Isabel, happiness will hopefully come from feeling loved for who she is, having skills to navigate the “normal” world, and being confident she can reach her full potential — which is limitless.

Isabel is an extraordinary girl. She is beautiful, loving and wholly unique. But call her normal to my face and you’re asking for it.

~Sarah Maizes

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