Friday, March 6, 2009

A New Normal

Recently we got home from school at a normal hour - no after school activities or therapy appointments. It happens once a week, and no matter how chaotic it might become, I relish it. This day, the boys had a snack and then went for a bike ride, with no disagreements about where they would ride to or even whether or not one or the other wanted to go on a ride. They came home, having stopped and gotten me the mail (without my asking them), and started in on their homework. There was no fussing about having to do the homework, no procrastinating, no fighting over which computer to use. Tommy worked intently on his spelling sentences, typing things like, "My Mom's vision has gotten a lot better since her cataract surgery." As recently as a year ago, I could not have imagined him thinking, let alone writing, this sentence, and the only word he asked my how to spell was "cataract". Will worked on describing what it would be like to travel through space in A Wrinkle in Time for his book club, without constant reminders to come back into focus. Tommy clipped his nails (typically a major sensory issue) without being asked.

You might be thinking "and then what?" But that's just it - nothing! Frankly, it was a bit eerie. I felt as if someone had slipped me a Valium. I would have no justification for complaining to my husband that night that I was tired. And then I thought, "is this what normal people feel like after school? Do they enjoy the euphoria that comes from these simple successes every day?" Then I realized, of course not. In fact, as I was discussing with another mom from their Yoga class, these neurologically, emotionally or learning disabled kids are the new normal. Therapists, educators, parents - we all need to come to accept these kids as what might now be defined as typical. In doing this, I think the infrastructure of our schools (and society) would be so much better equipped to handle them.

There is plenty of debate about why this is. Is it something chemical in our environment? Is it the media and our early exposure to it? Is it an evolutionary thing? No one can tell you for sure, but what I can relay is this: The heads of two private schools we have been at (who are both older women) will tell you that years ago you could walk into a classroom, and in a heartbeat pick out "the kid". "The kid" had ADHD or learning disabilities, more often than not "the kid" was a boy, and "the kid" was the one who was going to cause the teachers and administrators a boatload of trouble all year long. Today, you are challenged to walk into a classroom and pick out the typically developing children from the bunch. Both these women know that to exclude the sensory kids, the dyslexic kids, the AHDH kids, the bipolar kids, the anxiety-ridden kids, or the depressed kids would deplete their school populations enough that they would most likely not be able to fill their classrooms.

Though it can be very difficult for a parent to accept the disabilities and challenges his or her child may have, take solace in the idea that it is, in many of our minds, a new kind of normal. Know that you are in good company. Advocate your child's rightful position academically and socially. And cherish those rare days when things are eerily, and abnormally, calm!