« Parenting

The Fallacy of Normality or The Power of the 'High Five'

by Brad Ludwig

What is normal? Media seems to define it as something you don’t have but you can buy, create or learn. What if what is considered ‘abnormal’ is your normal? How do you reconcile that with the world you are literally being sold and always seems to be at arms length?

We spend our early lives, desperately seeking something called ‘normal’. Yet as adults, seeking employment, we need to separate ourselves from others. Calling attention to our special skills and abilities. “What makes you someone I should hire?”, is asked of us. What is your answer?

Alex and I were at the Mall today, doing our Mall ritual. The Coke machine for bottled water, chocolate chip cookies and then we wander the mall. As we were buying our cookies, Alex was getting excited to do the tour and see the sites. When he gets excited, in a beautifully decorated acoustic chamber, filled with murmuring voices, tempting smells and bright lights, he tends to make sounds and does his ‘I’m excited dance’. His brain keeps shooting signals to his body to move, whether it be fight or flight, I’m not certain. His arms and legs will move in a somewhat of a dance motion and he squeaks and squeals.
20 feet away, two adolescent girls and their matronly guardian being to stare and giggle at Alex. The ‘pappa bear’ inside of me always gets upset about that and I always have to reconcile that with the mantra of “Their world view is so small that their minds can’t understand what is happening to Alex.”

Sometimes laughter is born of fear.

If I watch a scary movie, sometimes I break out into nervous laughter, as a defense mechanism. That’s right, I’m that guy. The most horrific thing possible happens on the silver screen and I’m giggling like a schoolboy. I usually get worried looks from my fellow movie viewers because they don’t understand that it’s nervous laughter and not latent homicidal tendencies coming to the forefront of my psyche.

Sometimes laughter comes from a need to insulate yourself from what is considered ‘abnormal’. That laughter is used to raise yourself up and away from that which is unique or marks someone as an individual. This is practiced, mostly by children.
Not being ‘special’ keeps you under the radar and allows you the anonymity to just get through the day, without incident. That insulation can also block out what other people have to offer. Not looking past the superficial, keeps you safely away from your own feelings of inadequacy and having to ask the question, “Will my special gift be judged and found to be substandard?”

These are the things I tell myself to keep the thought of, “People are just malicious creatures who want to knock you down, as hard as they can, just to watch you suffer and laugh at your tears.” at bay.

These are also the things make me worry about Alex’s future in middle and high school.

His grade school classmates are wonderful. When I or the Ex visit class, everyone asks Alex for a high five or just a wave and acknowledgment of a hello. That comes from the environment his teachers, aides and therapists have worked to construct. To help include him into the class and teach his classmates that Alex wants to communicate but has a hard time doing so. I think that’s why they want the high fives from him.
Once Alex learned how to high five, it was a way for the other kids to connect with him. It became a greeting and a way to interact with him. He became a little more understandable and a little more like other kids in his class. The kids in his class really wanted to draw him out and be the ones that got him 'out of his shell'. The high five was the lauded start of that process for his classmates.

Once he moves on to middle school, will that be the same? Will peer pressure cause some of the kids that are friendly with him to change? How does a child that doesn't communicate tell his parents about his problems at school?

The Ex and I let Alex know how much he is loved, appreciated and worthwhile, everyday. He has so many things to offer the world. We want others to see it too. Hearing or witnessing someone reflexively undoing our work with ignorance, willful or unconscious, is frustrating.

Time will tell where we go from here. I hope that our foundation of love and support holds firm in the storms we have yet to weather on the years to come. Also, that normal is no longer a destination in any of our travel guides. Frankly, normal is boring.