The definition of normal is “a person who is conventional or healthy.” But to a parent, normal means—will my child be okay? Will they be happy? Will they be accepted and have people who truly know and care about them? These are the things that ran through my head when suddenly faced with the fact that my child falls outside that “normal” category.
The first time I heard the term “neurotypical” was about three years ago when my son Sebastian was diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He’d just turned three. We had no warning or even idea that something was not normal. After hours of testing, we received the diagnosis, and while the doctors delivered the news in the kindest of ways, there was still the painful truth that something was different about my son. He was not neurotypical – his brain did not process information normally.
The Honest Truth: I Was Ashamed
The hardest part of Sebastian’s diagnosis was the disbelief of my family and friends, combined with the blame on us as parents. I found most people didn’t believe ADHD was a legitimate diagnosis. Well-meaning people told me I needed to discipline my son more, spank him and ultimately suggested I was a bad parent. And the hard truth was that most of the time I believed them.
Leaving the house was like walking through a minefield. I never knew what would set off a meltdown or what dangerous thing Sebastian would try next. At the grocery store, he screamed and ripped things off the shelf; at home, we faced daily meltdowns and two-plus hour screaming fits—hitting and kicking, once pulling down a seven-foot tall bookcase. At the zoo, he had a meltdown over the type of bag his popcorn was in, resulting in me having to sit and physically restrain him while he screamed at the top of his lungs, yelling “You’re hurting me” while parents walked by staring, looking at me like the next phone call would be to child services.
I watched my as my friends parented perfectly well-behaved kids. I was sure I simply didn’t know what I was doing. In my heart, I felt I was at fault and somehow creating this behavior in my son. And what this created for me was a place of isolation—I stopped talking to my friends about our struggles, stopped going out and stopped sharing what was really happening.
Our life became a constrained effort of tip-toeing around our son and avoiding public places and friends so we wouldn’t have to face that judgment. I was ashamed of myself, and even more horrible, I was ashamed of my son. Then I found a lifeline.
The Power of Community
In my desperate searching for information about ADHD and some of our parenting problems, I found communities of people just like me—parents of kids with ADHD and Autism who faced the exact same issues. I found people who honestly acknowledged the challenges of raising a child who was different.
And most importantly, they were not ashamed. They showed me what it means to stand up and be an advocate for your child. There is strength that comes from being able to share your struggles and celebrate the wins with people who truly understand.
What I do now is talk about the uniqueness of ADHD without shame. I also share the real challenges and reach out to parents in struggle. For Autism Awareness month, I ask you to do the same—even if it is just a smile and an “I’ve been there” to the frazzled woman with the screaming kid at the grocery store.
Take this challenge and let me know how you have reached out to support those who are different (even if that is yourself).
Also, read Sue Robbins’ post, The Invisible Mom—she provides insight into the parenting world of non-neurotypical children.