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“But She Looks so Normal!”

By SWATI MITTAL

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I have heard this so many times as a parent of child with Cerebral Palsy, and I believe it is meant to be a compliment. I often fail to understand; after all being normal shouldn’t be a compliment.

What is normal anyway? And why are we so obsessed with it? Why can’t people be different and be okay with it? People want to be normal and push their children to fit into a box described as normal, and yet they want them to stand out and be better than others, essentially not normal.

I, for one, don’t understand all hoopla about normal. Why is different a negative term?

“Normal is not something to aspire to; it’s something to get away from.” —Jodie Foster

I remember this one incident, where I was at park and Kyra was climbing up the tall ladder. I was hovering to make sure she doesn’t slip due to poor balance. A mom accused her poor balance a result of my helicopter parenting. I had to mention that Kyra has Brain Damage due to pediatric stroke and a condition called Cerebral Palsy, she looks shocked and said “Oh! But she looks so normal!”

 

Did she think I was lying for sympathy? Or was this a compliment? I know she intended to make me feel better but her lack of understanding invalidates the hard work my daughter, puts in every day just to complete tasks like climbing a ladder. What that Mom didn’t know was that we come every morning and practice an hour so that she can enjoy it later with friends.

That makes her a hardworking girl, a resilient girl, a fighter, a warrior, a survivor and so much more than “normal.”

I talk to so many parents everyday who are new to the special needs journey and their greatest fear is that their child won’t be normal, that their differences make them somehow less than normal. I understand this but I am on a mission to eradicate this idea.

These parents haven’t yet had a chance to see all the amazing things their child can be, smart, brave, strong, funny, resilient, charming, and creative but normal should not be the goal.

The brain controls so many parts of our body and when the term “brain damaged” is used it doesn’t necessarily mean intellectual impairment. When people hear Kyra’s diagnosis they immediately ask if she is mentally retarded, a term that shows a lack of social awareness at the very least.

There are so many people with brain damage who have exceptional intellect, who understand complex problems and solve them with ease but at the same time have difficulty controlling facial muscles, hands and feet, and speech and mobility may be very difficult.

Frankly, normal is boring. It’s important to not be obsessed with it. It is our differences, our uniqueness that makes us special. Get out of the box; experience the world in different ways.

Just because disabled people are a minority that does not make them abnormal or not normal. Let’s shift our focus on the strengths that each individual has when we describe them and not on what we perceive as flaws. We can make a difference for our children and ourselves.

As Maya Angelou said, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

 

SWATI MITTAL

Swati Mittal is mom to as sassy 4 yr old girl with Cerebral Palsy. A dentist by profession, she now spends days doing therapies and incorporating fun ways of learning for Kyra. Her passion is to break the preconceived notions about disability and help other families give support and encouragement through her website, Facebook and Instagram pages.

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