Defining Normal: Who says I want to fit in… thinking about perspectives
Originally Posted on April 17, 2011 – This post has been republished as part of the Define “Normal” Blogging Challenge started by my wonderful blogging friend Renata over at Just Bring the Chocolate
As I shared in a previous post, I have a magnet on my fridge that reads, “Who says I want to fit in?” For me this message serves a function on a number of levels. It reminds me of strategies that I use to check and keep my view-point and self-talk on a positive track.
I am a little bit of an unusual thinker myself – sort of an eclectic, pragmatist with tendencies toward lateral and metaphorical connectivity. I love to joke: I have a quick wit, I am addicted to irony, and I am, at times, irreverent. On top of this I am usually cheerful… likely annoyingly so to some people. Sometimes, I don’t fit in! It can feel a bit awkward – because I do have the social intuition to perceive this.
That is when the message about fitting in becomes important to me. I could fit in better, but to do so I would have to sacrifice being what my sister calls weird, or what I prefer to think of as kinda quirky. I remember kids in my primary classes – before I became a Special Ed Teacher – saying, “Ms. Kelley… You’re weird!” I always responded with “Thank you, I will take that as a compliment. I don’t want to be like everyone else,” and the child usually smiled and became engaged in whatever it was we were talking about or exploring.
Invariably there comes a time when I don’t fit in, and when I am feeling uncomfortable with this – I try to remind myself that it is the qualities I like about myself that make it so. I remind myself that fitting in (at times) would mean a sacrifice that I am unprepared to make. It is our differences that make us interesting. I think of my friends and family, and I am closest to those who are a bit different from everyone else. That is what appeals to me, and I suspect I am not alone in this.
Who says I want to fit in? has another layer of meaning as well. As quirky as I may be (yes – even in my house), I am fairly certain that, although I am neurodivergent, I am not Autistic, and in being thus, I must be ultra aware of the expectations I put on H. I want him to gain social thinking strategies so that he can find success in the social realm, but here is where it gets tricky: I have to be aware that my perspective of what is important – may not have the same significance or importance to H.
Now this is very interesting – isn’t it! Suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – and we need to consider that it may be the non Autistics who have the issue with understanding perspectives when it comes to social expectations. As non Autistics, are we moving through our lives with a narrow picture of what it means to be social and what it means to fit in?? Perhaps there are occasions when we (non Autistics) are the ones that could consider broadening our ability to take the perspective of another. (This statement is rhetorical of course; there are many times when non Autistics could/should be the ones who work to broaden their perspective taking skills and work to gain a greater understanding of those with autism, and others who experience the world differently)
We also need to be careful not to impose our ideal upon people on the Autism Spectrum. I mean – what is your reality? Most of us have just a handful of people that we are really close to… maybe one or two really good friends – and the rest are acquaintances. Over time, the make up of those close to us can shift and change as well – sometimes people just drift out of our lives. We need to make sure that we do not give our kids with autism the false impression that we have hundreds of friends – because in reality – most of us do not.
I don’t want to be so focused on the idea of my child gaining the skills and strategies of social cognition so that he approximates typical, and then loses something of himself. There is a delicate balance here. I want him to find his way in the world of social so that he can be successful, and at the same time, my kid does not fit into the box – he is not typical. Both Craig and I are out of the box thinkers, and in a way H is just an extension of this… and then a little more – because he does not naturally or intuitively perceive that a box even exists.
There is also the complicating factor that I am able to sense the judgment and the unspoken fitting-in-pressure in the stares of onlookers. I must take the responsibility that I am the mitigator of this pressure. My child – thank heavens – is mostly oblivious to the judgment of strangers – but unfortunately (and fortunately too) not the judgment of his mom. It is so easy to be sucked into the narcissistic wanting-my-child-to-be-typical mode. This is insidious in its ability to sneak up and catch me unaware. The pressure put upon us to fit in socially can be strong indeed. It may sound contradictory that I have these feelings, when I have also stated sentiments like “if I could pluck the autism our of my child I wouldn’t.” It is contradictory! I have both of these feelings and they certainly do not align.
What I hope to establish is a balance and an awareness so that my non Autistic needs do not colour the needs of my child. It is a sticky messy thing – but I am trying to make my way…
Lots of angles to consider here, so many perspectives…
Clearly I don’t have the answers… which has me considering an interesting possibility: the questions themselves may be the important thing…
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011/12)
I’ve always thought “weird” was a compliment 🙂 Thanks for sharing
“I don’t want to be so focused on the idea of my child gaining the skills and strategies of social cognition so that he approximates typical, and then loses something of himself.”
This is exactly what happened to me. I spent decades trying to be something I wasn’t because of the pressure to conform and be some certain way that nobody could even explain. But I gave up on conformity as an adult and, a few years before I even knew I was on the spectrum, I started trying to find that intellectually independent and socially unconventional autistic boy who I left behind and abandoned back in my childhood. He was still inside of me somewhere, but deeply repressed. I gave up much more than I gained in the process and I wanted nothing more than to return to the way I once was. I have made considerable progress re-finding and regaining my original autistic self. Nobody should ever have to give that up.
”I wanted nothing more than to return to the way I once was”
I have been in a process of self-reconciliation, following the acceptance stage of my discovery of having Aspergers.
I seem to have embarked on a journey that is best described as my Renaissance.
I wish you well on your journey.
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Leah, these thought apply to all sorts of special needs children…even “normal” children, if there is such a thing! Thanks for sharing, it is so great to listen to your thoughts.
Fascinating perspective… we are the ones that define what we see as normal family life and then judge ourselves and our kids against it. Then make the decision whether we feel like we have failed or won judged one what we conclude.
Thanks so much for adding your point of view, your post is both thought provoking and intelligently written x
Bravo for posting this.. I think of this every day and you’ve inspired me to write about this too! I need that magnet on our refrigerator. I live with a bunch of autistic young adults and they go out in the community to school, jobs and volunteer activities. Then they come home and watch Disney Singalongs, play with LEGO’s and Barbies, and hoot, flap and talk to themselves up and down the driveway. Yay for them.
Wow. Brilliantly written, and so thought-provoking, thank you! Everyone IS different – there is no normal really, right?! Just a majority mass bunch in the middle who are not extreme at either end. Guess I ‘fit’ in there, but actually in some ways I’d rather be off the scale 🙂
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“Both Craig and I are out of the box thinkers, and in a way H is just an extension of this… and then a little more – because he does not naturally or intuitively perceive that a box even exists.”
A child crucially develops through the being of their parents. Craig and yourself took that as far as was practicable in the era in which you were each parented. H has taken this further, and in a manner possible in the era of his development; and in this era it is possible to see that boxes constraining sense and perception and cognition and imagination, are rather arbitrarily held in place by what is, ultimately, social. H has simply read the zeitgeist of our era: “he does not naturally or intuitively perceive that a box exists”, because what is most communicated by that zeitgeist is that such boxes are simply an epiphenomenon of an underwriting social; his development has taken an autistic turn, because his sensory-cognitive configuration has allowed him this zeitgeist-related sensitivity.
The autistic and social are then both in play, in H and his personal life, and in the familial and locality and societal life which contextualises him. In H the autistic may be more overt, may be something of the vehicle and engine which will most drive his developing. H will be doing joint-occurring, on many fronts, on many planes: he will be doing social; he will be positioned to develop social as well as autistic capacity.
The crucial thing, perhaps, is that a strong H will only want to take on joint-occurring which includes him as the autistic person he has discovered himself to be. Such joint-occurring is the social that is useful and non-harmful to him. That social will grow, and perhaps exponentially at critical moments, throughout his life.
That social is not then necessarily always what is social for others. If what is social for them, entails that H must exclude his autistic self somewhat from that “social”, then that is a massive ask of H. I would anticipate H exploring this exchange and interchange matter for himself. If H chooses, if H believes he can bear the exclusion costs entailed, then he may decide to enter and share the box of another’s “social”.
As an autistically developing person, H partakes of a cosmic wisdom about boxes, but he will not turn his back on others who cannot access that wisdom. Trust H’s wisdom about boxes, and he will step into and share the boxes you cannot yet do without.
Colin, Thank you for your deeply thoughtful comment. You always seem to weave new ideas into what I was thinking by adding such richness with your insight. Honestly… you leave me feeling on the edge of understanding…. gasping ‘wait… I’m not quite sure…” I, thus, I re-read your wise words multiple times – to unwrap the new layers and work to add them to my understanding! Thank you so much. Your insight is appreciated.
Leah, what you say about being “on the edge of understanding”, is where I find myself with the autistically developing children I support. I feel that so being on that edge is a basis for crucially useful empathy with the children coming towards and placing hope in me. I feel that something we can conjure on that edge, might provide independence for these children. This edge is a good place to meet these children; an “as good as it gets place”. The effort involved in staying with these children on this edge, is all consuming of what could be (our) self, as what we seek is the emerging ‘self’ of the (autistic) child. Our socialised thinking would whisk us off the edge, and away from a moment of meeting and joint-occurring with these children, away from sensing and understanding just how these children might best survive and thrive and move on from that edge. I conceptualise what we are there doing, as maternal loving; an evolved capacity centred in mothering; it
now directed at the situation of the autistic child. When I weave into what you (and Karla and Emma’s mum and others) have to ‘say’, that’s possible because you are all taking us to the edge of (individual and collective) understanding, and there we meet our wonderful, beautiful, hope-bringing autistically developing children. These children having these qualities because they exist on the edge of understanding, rather than at some socialised-normative, knowledgable ‘centre’.
Above all else, perhaps, we have to take narrative about this edge of understanding to a ‘nonautistic’ audience. I see you as striving to author that narrative; and H as your collaborative inspiration and compass in that striving. It’s like another version of assisted-communication. H spins up his whole-being. You consume your whole being in empathising with H’s being. You reflect and reflex on the sense you have across joint-occurring with H. You become H’s whole-person keyboard. The situations of your engagement with others sees (what is ultimately) H’s narrative printed into a public domain. The connective medium is whole-person mother-child loving.
This comment will resonate as I carry it with me and hold it close. Thank you for this gift of your beautiful words and perspective. I am honoured… Thank you…