My feelings about my Son 'learning to be normal'

even superman wondered about being normal #autism

Recently my 7-year-old son mentioned that he was "learning to be normal", and this broke my heart. Since he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 5 we have chosen to be open with him about autism and what it means for him.  Hearing him talking about learning to be normal is the complete opposite of what I had hoped for.

Shortly after his diagnosis, we explained to him that his brain thinks differently and that sometimes he needs a little extra help in the same way that some people need glasses to help them think. We wanted him to grow up to not feel ashamed or embarrassed, it is who he is - no big deal.

As a family, we face many challenges as a result of his challenging behaviour. This we address by learning how to best support him, and working out his needs so that we can work with him (and school) to develop the skills he needs to learn. Whilst I wish away the challenging behaviour every day (especially the moments when I am at my wit's end), I have never wished him to be normal.

For the past two years, he has viewed his autism as a superpower. He will often talk about his autism eyes (he is good at picking out details) and his autism brain. In fact he was so self-assured that he once told me that autism people are special and his autism is very autismy.

You don't understand autism people. Autism people are extra special, and my autism is very autismy
-- Eldest (aged 6)

Is his statement "learning to be normal" the first sign that he is starting to think differently about what autism means for him? Or could it be that he is starting to become aware of the perceptions of the people around him?

In Man of Steel, Clark Kent struggled at school with sensory overload and the knowledge that he was different. Are we heading for a moment when, just like Clark Kent, he will start to struggle with who he is and what it means for him?

We can't control the world around him and we can't stop people making comments. We can't hide him from the rest of the world or wrap him up in a bubble. We also can't make him see his autism as a positive, despite what other people say. So what can we do?

As I wondered about this, I came across another great insight from Brene Brown in her book  Daring Greatly. It was the chapter about parenting. In the book, she talks about children's shame and how parents can help reduce their child's shame through normalising. This means showing them that they are not alone in their struggles and highlighting having faced similar challenges.

As I read through the chapter, I realised that my goal was not about teaching my Son how to ignore name calling or feeling different. It isn't even about me trying to make him feel better, or have a chat about being normal. After all, what is normal?

It is about helping him to normalise his autism.

He is not alone. We need to show him that there are many other children and adults who also have autism and even more people who struggle with the thought of being different. We need to ensure he is able to meet other children with similar profiles and interests to himself, and help him to make connections when possible.

Highlighting our own challenges. We need to be open about our own struggles. The times we have been hurt by things other people have said about us, or have struggled to fit in. We also need to talk about our own challenges with managing our emotions, coping with unexpected change and accepting another person's point of view.

If we can successfully support him through the challenges he will undoubtedly face and show him how others have been in a similar position, then maybe he will continue to embrace his autism as his superpower and will not feel the pressure of needing to learn to be normal.

For us autism is normal, and one day I hope that my Son will feel that way too.

Spectrum Sunday

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