I looked up the word "normal" on good ole' Webster today. It defined it as follows:
of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development b : free from mental disorder : SANE
So I further investigated by looking up "sane", and found it defined as:
1 : proceeding from a sound mind : RATIONAL
2 : mentally sound; especially : able to anticipate and appraise the effect of one's actions
3 : healthy in body
So I thought I would look up "rational":
1 a : having reason or understanding b : relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason : REASONABLE rational explanation> <rational behavior>
Must I continue? Because as I continued trying to define normal, I thought, who is normal all the time anyway? There are many days that I, myself, am not "free of mental disorder", and I know darn well there are people around me whom I would agree are not normal all the time, or as those of us in the autism community would prefer....typical.
I say this because, on Saturday, my oldest neurotypical son and I, enjoyed a wonderful event. An event in which we were able to view a movie I heard about awhile back. "Normal People Scare Me" is a film about autism, and created and documented by Taylor Cross, a brilliant 18 year old with autism. Taylor invited more than 65 individuals with autism or Asperger's Syndrome to describe their experiences on the film. Keri, his mother, helped him on the project that was produced by Joey Travolta, John Travolta's brother. Ironically, John Travolta has a 14 year old son, whom many believe is autistic, but because of their Scientology practice, are not allowed to call or treat it as such.
I am thankful for the efforts of our local Minneapolis group called Autism InfoGroup and Partner's in Excellence, and in collaboration with the Twin Cities ARC, who sought funding through local sponsors to make this event free. Keri and Taylor have been touring the United States and world this last year, and we were one of the first places to provide this free for families.
The day included break out sessions in the afternoon that allowed moms, dads and siblings to meet seperately and share their experiences with Taylor and his mother, who made the film, as well as Taylor's little brother, who is 11. Zach loved the experience of meeting someone else in the same situation as him. They became friends for the day, and even got to talk a little Nintendo DS chat. Zach thought it was "cool" meeting someone in a movie! Keri Bowers has dedicated her life to bringing awareness and acceptance into the community. She speaks volumes about getting our children ready through social and life skills training and has started camps in California for individuals with Autism to do so. She was very inspiring to me, and reassured me that Brent and I were doing things similar with Sam. She doesn't believe in sitting back with our kiddos with autism and letting the providers take care of the therapies that our kids do daily.
Keri has coined a term called "missions". That you create "missions" for our kids NO MATTER what level of the spectrum. They are going to be capable of doing whatever we believe. If we believe they can't handle certain situations in public or in life, and don't ever begin teaching them these things, then of course they never will conquer it. Even outings to the store need to be taught and practiced, and as Keri said, "do it 1,000's of times till they get it". Our kids need that to survive in society.
So a simple "mission" example is this....if your goal for your child is the best independence they can have in their adult life (which is ours), then you have to start "mission outings" NOW! Keri said that even for 3 year olds it is not too early, you just modify your short term goal. So, for us the last two years, we make daily outings into public with Sam. He has to learn to be able to go to a store as an adult, right? I think back to even a year ago. I dreaded Target with him. The flourescent lights, the sounds, and the smells were sometimes too much. But if you keep introducing them to the environment, they will eventually learn to cope. Yes, last week he still collapsed in middle of an aisle there, curling up in a little fetus position and wouldn't move because it was too much...but that is progress. I enjoy going to the store with him now. I am no longer afraid of what might happen. I love that he is going to point to every light that is burned out. I love that he is going to give them "free service as a stock person" as he lines up products that have fallen, or that are out of order when we walk by. I love all of that, and I can tell you that I would have NEVER said that a year ago. Our next "missions" with Sam at the store will be to make a list of some things that we need that relate to him (like shampoo or something). Give him his list. He has to look for it. Put it in the cart. Give it to the clerk and pay for it (with our money of course). Carry the bag out. Bring the shampoo in the house and put it in the shower. Sounds simple, but our kids need more of this, so that someday...they will do it on their own hopefully.
Below is a 10 minute clip from Taylor and his film. The full length is 90 minutes. This is an excellent resource to share with family and friends, who really don't understand what it is like for an autistic person. All of the interviews are with people on the spectrum, except for Joey Travolta, a therapist and some teachers and parents. This is also an excellent tool to use with your children's school and to offer to present as an inservice. Enjoy!
A Twist of Faith
After seeing the movie, I can see how normal people would scare me too! I scare myself sometimes too! :) God made us all so unique and special, and if he wouldn't have, we could never be the body of Christ He wanted us to be!
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 describe it like this: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many." This means each Christian is an equal part of the body of Christ!