Friday, June 11, 2010

The Peculiar Violence of the Normal (1 of 2)

One doesn't live long at Autism's Edges (or in Fluffy-life or in Autismland or The Family Room) or any number of special needs parenting worlds before one becomes acquainted with the peculiar violence of the normal.

What is the peculiar violence of the normal?

You know that you've bumped up against this peculiar violence when you're getting angry stares that telegraph "control your child or I will."

You know you've gotten slapped with it when someone, usually a family member, or friend, or parent from a playground with typically developing children, suggests that your parenting is the source of your child's difficulties in adapting.

And you know that you've gotten slammed with it when someone (usually this person is a more or less well-intentioned professional in a medical, psychiatric or educational context) tells you that your child is unreachable or unteachable or provides a less than helpful label such as mentally retarded (or, in a more politically correct setting, cognitively impaired) or a truly useless diagnosis like "oppositional defiance disorder."

Normal. It seems such a harmless word.

But then it brings along its entire tyrannical family of normal-centric words—should, oughta, must, and could've, meant to, ought to have—the vast language of imperative or regret.

Normal gains its power to harm from the legitimacy that we (and all the other persons, groups, and institutions in our culture) afford it. But all of you know that. If you're reading this blog, chances are good that you are intimately acquainted with the tyranny of the normal.

Back in 19th-century America slavery was considered normal. Enslaving Africans as labor for American and Caribbean plantations was the norm. But to suture the damaging gap between the foundational American value of "all men are created equal," the word slavery was a word displaced by a euphemism: "the peculiar institution."

For decades now activists, like the abolitionists of the 19th century, have been battling the peculiar violence of the normal. Norms of sexual identity, and physical and cognitive abilities, and body size have all come under fire.

But activism is not always a ready and soothing balm when one is struck close to home by this sort of violence. Activism, and solidarity with those who share our own corners well outside the narrow perimeters of the normal, can help.

But sometimes activism is little or no help to us in the moment — when we are suffering under the sway of the normal. Tomorrow I'm going to write about one way that has helped our family when we've been caught in the harrowing throws of tyranny of the normal.

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