Friday, March 26, 2010

Think About Thursday: The Value of Normality

Throughout my time working with the Asperger's Syndrome community I have often had to face the "normal" question. Parents, especially those whose child has just been diagnosed, want to know if their child will ever be "normal" and how to go about achieving that goal. They want their child to make friends their own age, take up "normal" interests, and generally fit in. It is an unfortunate reality that American society is now becoming increasingly conformist. Gone are the days when eccentric people were the leaders of our society and now being "normal" and fitting in are the values. Benjamin Franklin didn't fit in, neither did Einstein. Abraham Lincoln would be considered eccentric to the extreme today. The less said of personalities like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Ellison the better.

Fitting in, not standing out, being part of the crowd, since when have these been American values? Aren't Americans those pioneering people who live in the very edge of what is possible. Who push the boundaries of what is accepted as tradition or fact forcing every "given" to justify its existence? What is wrong with standing out? This country was founded by a bunch of cooks that Europe didn't want to deal with who had the outlandishly ridiculous idea that countries did not have to ruled by kings and aristocracies.

When I was in Middle School I was well known as the student who dressed respectably while other the other suburban children wanted to look like thugs and 'hos. As a result in 8th Grade I won a prestigious award from the community recognizing me as the "most improved male student." The prize even involved some money.

Let us examine for a moment those normal children: violence, drugs, alcohol, and sex are rampant in our schools today. Children are less empathetic to one another, less caring, less understanding. In fact, I would argue that the greater part of the challenge for children with social deficits today is not in these children but in the changes to our society. If taking drugs and drinking are normal I would prefer that my son be an outcast.

Children with AS are unique. They have the advantage that, as socially challenged children, they are not as likely to fall into these kinds of problems. Many parents would call this a blessing, and yet, in the education system it is a curse. Teachers and professionals will complain about how each child does not fit in and does not take up the interests of their peers, regardless of the regressive nature of such interests. I would say that to a certain degree this is a good thing.

On the other hand we can now turn our focus to how to help overcome social challenges so as to help children acquire real social skills, which should be our goal in the first place, rather than worrying about being normal. This will be the subject of next week's Think About Thursday, which will be a few days late due to the Passover Holiday.

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Chag Sameach, and G-d Bless!

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