“He has autism? I never would have noticed. He looks so normal.”
That’s usually the response I hear when I tell people my son, Norrin, has autism. As if autism is noticeable at first glance. As if “passing for normal” is a compliment.
When Norrin was diagnosed at two-years-old, I was not surprised. Norrin couldn’t speak, point, wave or clap. He didn’t look me in the eye and he rarely responded to his name. I had prepared myself to hear the words, “Your child has autism.”
But I was not prepared for everything else that comes with the disorder. I wasn’t prepared to read a twenty-page report filled with all the things my son couldn’t do. I wasn’t prepared to hear that Norrin had the cognitive level of a 14-month-old and the language level of a seven-month-old. I was not prepared for the therapists, the waiting lists, the follow-ups, the questions and the stares. And I certainly was not prepared for Norrin to be thought of as not “normal.”
“Normal” has been redefined for our family. Like many of the parents featured on today’s Katie, my husband and I have learned to focus on all the things that Norrin can do, rather than what he can’t. We have learned to ignore timetables and accept that Norrin will get things in his own time. And like all other parents, all we want is for our son to be happy, confident and feel loved. Norrin makes us laugh, he makes us proud and he inspires us every single day. While our dreams may have changed slightly, we have dreams nonetheless for our son and we know his future is full of possibilities.
It’s been almost five years since Norrin’s diagnosis and he has come such a long way since his initial evaluation. He can speak, point, wave and clap and he engages in imaginative play. I celebrate every single milestone and accomplishment because I know how hard he’s worked to achieve the things that come so naturally for other kids.
Like most moms, I have pictures of Norrin plastered all over my desk at work. Pictures, where he’s looking and smiling at the camera, with his dimpled cheeks and his eyes bright with excitement. And family pictures at the zoo, at Disney World, at the beach; doing things that normal families do.
Anyone looking at our family photos would never know the number of shots taken to capture that one perfect picture. They will never notice the way I’m holding on, afraid to let go, because he may run away. They’ll never know about the team of therapists we’ve had in and out of our home, or about the hours of special education services that were required to get Norrin to respond to his name or look at the camera. All they’ll see is a family who looks normal.
Because we are.
What obstacles have you had to overcome as a parent?