Life on the Spectrum

What is Normal?

I recently saw the movie Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic. The word “normal” was tossed around a lot in the movie. The question seemed to be: can an autistic person ever be normal?

My questions are: what is normal? Who defines it? What are the criteria? Who decides whether or not I am normal? Is being normal a good thing? Do I even want to be normal?

When I was part of the gay-lesbian community in the 1990s I often heard two expressions regarding normalcy. One was: “‘Normal’ is a setting on the washing machine,” and the other one was, “Heterosexuality isn’t normal. It’s just common.” I think those of us in the autism community can learn from the gay community when it comes to normality.

If you put the words “Normal is” into a Google search, you will get the following suggestions: “Normal is a setting on the dryer,” “Normal is boring,” “Normal is an illusion,” “Normal is overrated.” When I was a teenager it was common to see people sporting buttons that said, “Why be normal?” This makes it appear that perhaps normality is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Still, it doesn’t help with an actual definition of what normal is.

When someone uses the word “normal” as applied to autistic people, it’s usually in the context of the autistics not being normal, at least in the criteria of the person using the word. But really, I think that the word is meaningless. There isn’t a DSM categorization for “normal.” There isn’t a concrete list of characteristics that make someone normal. It’s normal for me to eat meat; it’s not normal for a vegetarian to eat meat. Does that mean the vegetarian is abnormal? If there are more meat-eaters than there are vegetarians, that means that being a meat-eater is more common than being a vegetarian, just like being heterosexual is more common than being homosexual, and being non-autistic is more common than being autistic. That doesn’t mean that the vegetarian, the gay person or the autistic person is abnormal.

For me, eating meat is normal. Being bisexual is normal. Wearing purple is normal. Using public transportation and not driving a car is normal. Loving cats is normal. Being autistic, for me, is normal. If I suddenly somehow started acting non-autistic it would mean I was acting in a way that is abnormal for me.

I guess that means that I am normal after all, whatever that means! What is normal for me is probably not normal for you, the reader, or for anyone else. But as long as my version of normal works for me, I’ll keep it.

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Comments on: "What is Normal?" (1)

  1. I’m gestating some posts for my own blog on WP. In those posts I’ll write about statistics. There’s a frequency distribution which turns up all over the place: a bell-shaped curve. The middle part of that distribution shows the most common values of whatever is being measured. The 2 ends of that distribution show the least common and the most common. It’s about frequency, not about any moral or medical judgement. It’s the distribution of, say, people’s heights or companies’ share prices. I’m willing to hazard a guess that the traits measured to diagnose people as autistic are in bell-shaped distribution too.

    What strikes me about this distribution (alongside its useful mathematical features) is that it’s called the normal distribution. It’s normal because it turns up so often in the real world.

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