“Normal, norm, or normalcy do not exist in the real world of people, despite the fact that we are told that we can modify our behavior and train our bodies and minds to reach it. We are told to chase it – in our culture, in our families, in our lives. But when we chase it – as I did – it disappears. Normalcy is like a horizon that keeps receding as you approach it.” – Jonathan Mooney (Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD in elementary school – Author of “The Short Bus”)
It broke my heart as I listened to her story, because it didn’t have to be this way.
She was a young college student, and she was sharing with me about how incredibly challenging her first year of college was. She confessed that she wouldn’t have even passed her first year of classes if it hadn’t been for the kindness of a friend who basically wrote some of her papers for her. She was in turmoil as she debated her future options, and was heavily considering dropping out of college.
She cried as she shared that she so wished she had been in a program like Foundations when she was in high school, but she humbly admitted that she was too afraid of what other people thought of her back in high school to get the help she needed. She was popular, played on several school sports teams, and her primary focus in high school was winning the approval of others around her.
Now, after high school had passed, tears flowed as she shared that all of those years of trying to be “normal,” all of those years of doing what she felt would prevent other people from thinking less of her, put her in the spot she was sitting in here and now. She hated college because the work was too hard and confusing for her, and her self-esteem was suffering. She shared that she doesn’t even talk to or see most of her old high school “friends” anymore anyway — All of that time and energy put into impressing others, as opposed to doing the things that would have helped her and her future, wasted.
The story I just shared with you is a true story, and sadly, it’s a common story. We all seem to have this idea of what “normal” is in our mind, and we will often pursue it at all cost. Us parents will even, out of love, do anything we can to help our children “fit it,” feel “normal,” and avoid pain.
The tragedy for students with learning challenges is that they will often avoid getting the support they need, the support they deserve, out of fear of what other people think. Many parents will avoid pursuing support programs for their children out of fear that by doing so, they will have condemned their child to the title of “not normal,” or “not popular,” or “different.” Some parents are not only afraid of what other kids will think of their child, they are also afraid of what other parents will think of them… if their child needs extra support or is in a special program, does that mean that they somehow failed as a parent? Does that mean that other families will think of their family as different? The confusion and frustration of knowing exactly how to support a struggling child is real, and it can be painful!
As a mother of four myself, and as an educator who has worked with struggling students for years, the best advice I can offer to you is this…
Stop pursuing normal, stop trying to help your child fit in, and instead do what is truly best for your individual child’s future. Tune out the fear of what other people think, and be careful to not put pressure on your child to be like anyone else. Teach them truth, which is that they are already normal. Normal is not a person who doesn’t need help, who has no weaknesses, who always feels happy and confident, who fits perfectly into every situation, who everyone likes, and who gets invited to every prom. Normal is having both strengths and weaknesses. Normal is feeling afraid and alone at times, but doing hard things anyway. Normal is having some people not like you for no reason at all. Normal is trying and failing, and having to try again. Normal is needing help sometimes.
The reality is, if my young college friend had chosen to be in a program like Foundations for her 4 years of high school, her experience in college and her future career potential would have looked very different. Is it possible that there might have been some kids along the way who made some snarky comments about her choosing to be in a support program? Maybe. Heck, let’s be honest, kids are cruel to each other at times! But the fact is, our kids are going to be picked on at some point no matter what class or program they are in – that’s what happens at all schools. What my young friend now realizes is that she wishes she had fought through that fear of what others thought about her in her younger years, and that she had instead pursued what was best for her. And even more, she wishes that she hadn’t chased after an unattainable mirage of what she thought normal was, and instead had realized back in junior high and high school that she was already perfectly normal, learning challenges and all.