Loving a child who’s not quite normal

Parents want to have normal children. It’s not because they won’t love them if they’re not normal. It’s not because they don’t understand that the world needs people who aren’t normal. It’s because they want their kids to be happy, and children who behave like their peers seem so happy.

I didn’t realize this before I became a dad. But now I have two kids, and my son is not quite normal. Did I imagine he’d want to play sports? Did I imagine he’d enjoy rough-housing with his friends? I guess so.

My son has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has an attention deficit and he has something called a coding problem, which means it takes him a long time to do any school work that involves writing.

But he does his homework because he’s conscientious. He’s gentle and he’s more polite than he needs to be. He’s very smart. When he takes standardized tests he blows them away. I just wish he were normal.

When I attend his school’s outdoor assembly I see him standing in line with his eyes cast down while his classmates are joking around. During recess he wanders around by himself holding a stick. Sometimes he gazes at the ground to study the movement of ants. There was a time when he collected junk all over the school yard and brought it home. Bottle caps. Pieces of paper. Lots of hair bands that girls had left behind.

His little sister is five years old. She likes pink. She likes Barbie. She is also my son’s very best friend. They’ve played together joyfully ever since she was an infant. It frightens me to think how lonely my son would be if we hadn’t had his sister.

Kids with Asperger’s Syndrome are mildly autistic and they have a hard time relating to other people. They’re awkward and nerdy. My son’s deficit in social skills has made him an outsider since he was in preschool. He now attends a Catholic school which is a den of rules, and I love that. Rules protect vulnerable kids like my son. They give him a structure he can relate to and they shield him from bullies.

Yet there are rules my son finds very difficult. They are the rules of human interaction that say you have to read subtle expressions and gradations of attitude and emotion. At the age of ten he understands jokes and sarcasm. But he doesn’t look people in the eye when he talks and he doesn’t understand that you’ve got to stop talking when people aren’t listening to you anymore.

We all see the world from inside a human skin so none of us see it perfectly. My son may be more normal than I think he is and I may not be what my parents expected. All of us rely on some mercy and indulgence and maybe those things will bring my son friends aside from his little sister. I know he’s happy at home and he may be perfectly happy wandering the playground with his stick as other kids swirl around him in pairs and foursomes.

I can’t make my son normal and I will confess I don’t want to because he’s what I want. As for his happiness… I can wish for it, but it is something he’ll eventually have to find on his own.

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2 Comments on “Loving a child who’s not quite normal”

  1. Jerral Miles Says:

    Tom (and Karen),
    Having spent my professional life with people under the age of nineteen, I can tell you I have known dozens (perhaps hundreds…because I am an old man) of children and older adolescents who are “not normal,” and I also must tell you that they often are the flavoring, the spice, the leavening in a whole school community. It seems from your writing that you already know that saying a child is “not normal” is not the same as saying that “something “wrong.” Obviously you recognize that there is nothing “wrong” with your son. He isn’t what you expected. My son is not what I expected, but I wouldn’t change anything about him. He is “not normal” if you consider that only about ten percent of people are born with a homosexual rather than a heterosexual orientation. Life is difficult for the person who is not normal largely because the world is designed mostly for the ninety percent. The people in the majority are often less than considerate, less than understanding when they relate to people who are not like them. I hope your family is as fortunate as mine to have a “not normal” child (in my case, he is now past fifty years old). My son is one of the most considerate, most genuinely good human beings I have ever known. I’d like to think my family has had something to do with w his being the exceptionally good person he is. However it happened, we are very fortunate indeed. I’m sure your family’s love for and thoughtful understanding of your son will be absolutely what he needs to be the person the world needs.

  2. Wendy Holland Says:

    Great job of squeezing my heart.

    Thanks for being vulnerable enough to lay out what so many need to hear from an insider perspective.

    Blessings, and very best regards to you and your family.

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