On Not Being Normal

“I’m not normal,” Jessica says matter-of-factly. “I am not like other children.”

We are at Wheatfield’s, having a snack. This is one of her favorite places to ambush me with questions about why her life is the way it is. You’d think I’d get a clue and start saying, No, not Wheatfield’s! But I don’t. I’m always, Oh, that sounds good.

It does not seem to bother her, to be different, but I wish there were another way for her to talk about her situation. Somehow, perhaps naturally, she thinks the world is full of normal children, who do not spent their childhoods in doctors’ offices, and a few not-normal children, who do.

Words have never scared Jessica. She is a girl who responds to dictionary definitions, not connotations or nuances.

“Normal,” I say. “That word has so much judgment in it.”

She shrugs and eats another bite of my cookie.

“I don’t really like that word,” I add. “When you use it that way.”

“I do not like a lot of your words,” she responds with some asperity. “I do not like damn or shit or that other word –” she won’t even say it aloud “ – and you use them all the time.”

“That is because I exhaust my self control by nine each morning,” I explain. “The world is extremely tiresome.”

She considers this argument and then, apparently deciding it’s not a very good one, says, “But I am not normal, and you can’t say I am.”

“I can say it!” I tell her extravagantly. “I do say it!”

“But it is not true,” she says placidly, pinching off another bite of cookie.

“All right,” I say, taking my cookie back. “I acknowledge that you’re not like other children. But I will only go so far as to say you are non-neurotypical.” I like words like non-neurotypical. Ann Coulter has never used that as a slur.

“Also, I think you’re not normal, either,” she ventures, not looking at me or the cookie. She is either dead serious or she is making a joke. She usually laughs at her own jokes so I suspect this is an important thing to her, though I don’t know how or why. Maybe she just wants us to be in this thing together.

You are neurotypical,” she says, tripping over the word but I know what she means.

“Hmm,” I say. “Neurotypical but not normal.”

“That means you have a choice,” she says, with the air of someone who has had the last word, which I think she almost certainly has because she almost always does.


  1. Isn’t it funny how children always cut right to it? My nephew Timmy is the first to explain a behavior by saying something along the lines of, “Well that’s because I have autism,” or “That’s because I’m not like other kids,” when the rest of us place the focus elsewhere. He doesn’t like to mince words (I hear “Well now you’re being sarcastic” of my favorite “Oh, you’re just being kidding!” about 5 times a week). Sounds like Jessica doesn’t like to mince words, either.

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