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Finding a New “Normal”

Accepting the Challenges That Come With Disabilities

As a pediatric occupational therapist, one of the hardest conversations I have with caregivers often deals with the question, “But will my child ever be normal?” That word [normal] is absolutely gut wrenching for me, as I see the anguish wash over a parent’s face because they long for is for their child to be successful. Often, they feel their child isn’t successful because their differences impede their ability to engage in everyday life. The questions that follow look something like, “Will they ever ride a bike? Will they walk without me? Will they feed themselves? Will they go to school?” And the list goes on.

As I’ve grown as a therapist, and as a person, normal is not a word I like to use. What even is normal? Is it what typically developing kids can do? Is it when a kid meets a milestone at an age appropriate time? The dictionary defines normal as; “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” When you read the definition, those are not attributes one would aspire to be.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting a child who has differences, they are not typical, nor do they conform to any standards , and that is still totally amazing! We need to push for more inclusion, more acceptance, and finding a new normal (which won’t be normal at all).

The big question is: How are caregivers supposed to come to terms with a disability?

– Just because a child has a label, it does not define them or what they can achieve.
– Limits are made to broken. Adjusting to a disability and creating new standards are essential.
– Set achievable goals. It doesn’t matter when a child learns to take a bite without assistance, what matters is that they learn to take the bite.
– Have patience; patience with the child and patience with yourself. Although we know it’s not easy, I assure you, it will be worth it.

I challenge ALL individuals who work with ALL children, help us break the mold. Help us create an environment that acknowledges meeting milestones regardless of what age or ability level it is reached. Every single child makes gains at different stages of their lives. The true beauty in this statement is knowing that God created them all different and they are more than enough. All kids make progress when and how they are supposed to. Although it may seem frustrating to those who try their hardest to help them along the way, any progress is still progress. Let us aspire to have kids who are happy and engaged, over kids who are “normal”.

Find a NEW normal. Normalize acceptance. Normalize meeting a kid where they are. Normalize goals that are attainable, and never think that the typical normal is the only way.

Cameron Lile, MS, OTR/L