How much of your life have you spent (wasted?) trying to be normal? I constructed my life around the mythical land of Normal, but someone has different plans for me. Last year we were told our son wasn't 'normal', so now we're packing up old prejudices, our preconceived notions and unrealistic expectations, and we're moving out of Normal to a different... possibly better neighbourhood.

You too will find yourself, no matter who you are, joining me in this place where the only true measure of normal is which kind of weird you are. This blog will explore a journey most of us will take at some point: letting go of preconceptions about ‘normal’, peeling our fingers off the image we had of what our lives ‘should’ look like, and having the courage to re-imagine the piece of time we are given in this world.

You are now leaving Normal.

"A nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there!"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Don't Fix What's Broken

Yes, you read that right. Don’t fix what’s broken. I decided to look back at what I was writing about one year ago in March of 2010, and at that time I had just read a hilarious article by Paul Baswick in which he makes the case for why he, as a husband and father, wisely chooses to NOT fix what’s broken in his house. A truly insightful man! I used that as the inspiration for my special needs parents’ Top 10 Things to Not Fix - and I'm sharing them with you again as we head into spring 2011:

1. The paint colour – or any other ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ home renos. Priorities people! Unless it’s affecting your mood or making your life difficult, leave your house alone and unsubscribe from HGTV and TLC. Besides, chances are your kids HATE changes and love consistency – right down to the colour of your paint!

2. The lightbulbs – florescents may be ecofriendly but they are not SPD friendly.

3. Your kid’s picky eating habits. This is one to embrace if your child has sensory issues or is on the spectrum. Of course this doesn’t apply in extreme cases where your child is at risk of malnutrition, but if your pediatrician is happy with your child’s growth and diet, then let this one go. I have spent countless hours fretting about and trying to fix what Simon is or is not eating, but his pediatrician always reassures me with a few simple rules for good nutrition: is he routinely getting a green or yellow/orange vegetable, a protein, calcium, and a healthy fat? That can translate into is a diet as simple as sugar snap peas or sweet potato fries, a burger or chicken nuggets (lots of healthy brands nowadays), chocolate milk/rice milk, and some olive or flaxseed or fish oil hidden in his meals or taken with his vitamins. And yes, even if he eats that every day, you are OK. If you can answer yes to those, and your pediatrician is happy with your child’s diet and growth, then don’t fix it because it isn’t really broken. Sure variety is the spice of life but it’s not worth wasting your life to attain.

4. The McDonald’s deep fryer. As far as Simon knew, it was pretty much perpetually “broken”. This is because with the exception of peanut butter, the only protein Simon would eat until last year was McDonald’s burgers and chicken nuggets. So once a week I let him have a burger AND nuggets, but no fries. “Why mama?”, “Because the French fry machine is broken honey”. It worked beautifully until the day the kid at the counter responded cheerily with “No it’s not”. “YES, it is” I replied, but despite me winking at him like a cougar (am I old enough to qualify as a cougar?) he did not catch on to my scheme and responded insistently “No, really, it’s working fine… see?” And he proceeded to walk over to the vat of fries and show Simon that Mama was indeed lying through her teeth. I do not regret this lie as I figure I saved his arteries a zillion grams of trans fat. So if your child is still gullible enough to fall for this one, keep the fry machine on the fritz.

5. Your child’s shoes. Laces are soooo 1950. Come on! This North American obsession with the tying of shoes being a ‘developmental milestone’ is completely outdated and ludicrous. Spare yourself the stress and buy Velcro. Once they are too old for Velcro, use bungee laces. Fine motor skills can be developed in ways that don’t make you late for every appointment and arriving in tears.

6. Your child’s handwriting. Let’s face it: as much as I would love to live in a Jane Austen world of letters and journals written with lacey feathers at high tea, our kids are more likely to be flying around with personal jet packs than they are to be judged ‘in the real world’ by their handwriting. Working on fine motor skills is good, shedding tears or losing marks because of handwriting is NOT.

7. Your child’s quirks – don’t correct them, CELEBRATE THEM!!! Truly they are a gift to the Universe of diversity and tolerance.

8. Your housekeeping – North Americans have an obsession with ‘clean’ while we busily pollute the environment with unnecesary chemicals. Keep the house tidy-ish and sanitary, and use all that extra time to enjoy a more meaningful activity than swiffering with your family!

9. Your relatives’ opinions. Give them the information they need to be patient and understanding with your child, but don’t stress out if some of them just don’t ‘get’ it. You can’t force them to understand and you don't need to own their ignorance, so learn to let go of your need for their approval.

10. Your Self. Remember that you are no more a broken person than your child is. They love you and are doing their best, and you love them and are doing your best. This is the human condition, and we are here to learn from the journey. Most parents tend to be self-critical and guilty about their child rearing skills, but I think that is ten-fold for those of us with high-needs kids. Don’t judge yourself or be impatient with yourself. Hold your head up high, take a deep breath, and love yourself first.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My son doesn't wear tie shoes (slip ons). Can't tie a knot to save his life. The only veggie to pass his lips is corn. He hates milk (but eats lots of cheese and yogurt). He never finishes his fries (for which I am thankful). And I hate to clean house (although it is usually tidy and is always sanitary... for the most part). What a wonderful article! Puts things into perspective.

  2. Thank you. I have heard/read these things in various forums over the years, but they are always worth hearing again. I need a reminder quite often, I am not at the "zen parent" stage yet. I am working on it, with my son's help.

  3. I feel like this should be framed or laminated. You've hit the nail on the head with this one!

  4. Oh, wow, Caitlin, were you reading my mind? I swear you have just addressed almost every issue that is currently driving me nuts. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    My favorite is the velcro. We haven't even begun to make any progress on teaching Danny to tie his shoes, and I just cannot face it! Thanks for your permission to let it go! You are awesome!

  5. This is a great post. You said so many things that I needed to remind myself of. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for the insight! I really need this list!

  7. How about your child's Intellectual Disability (75-80% of those with actual Autistic Disorder, 41-44% of those with an autism disorder of any kind including Aspergers). How about the the inability to live an independent life as an adult?

  8. Thanks everyone! I'm glad these were helpful - I need to remiind MYSELF of them too!

    Autism Reality NB, I'm unsure of what you are asking in terms of this post....

  9. GREAT, awesome, post!

    @Autism Reality NB Does raining on someone else's parade count as bad manners, and thus, poor social skills? Her son sounds like a bright kid, and he does have feelings. You know about the HFA type's affinity for computers Mr. Doherty. One day, he may feel hurt because of what you said. One day, I hope you realise that it is illogical to think as pessimistically as your comment implies that you think. It would only add to your stress, and considering your parenthood, such a thing is not wise.

  10. I LOVE this post. My husband and I have long said that the iPhone touch screen had to be developed by someone with low tone! And as someone who has worked in the internet/technology space since 1997, I can tell you that the days of laces and handwriting are indeed almost over. My son is a master at the iPad, can figure out how to turn any device on, and is bright and detail oriented. The future is HIS!

  11. My son is currently delayed and going through IE; whether he is dx'd as autistic remains to be seen. However, THANK YOU for this post! I have been struggling lately, feeling like a bad mom because of my son's behavior that I can't seem to fix, and this post was so encouraging to me. I'm going to try to dial down my stress a little and follow your advice. :)

  12. I just found your blog, and I love this list - I agree with all of it (especially the shoe lace bit). I do have a small issue with No. 6 though - handwriting. I didn't worry about it, and now it's come back to bite my son hard. I never realized his handwriting is bad because it's difficult for him (I just thought he had bad handwriting). And now that he's in third grade, his writing assignments consistently get bad marks. And not for handwriting - but for composition. Because writing is so difficult, he shortens and simplifies and drops important words or phrases, writing the bare minimum (and sometimes less). He can orally tell you an amazing story... he can't write it down though. Looking into OT to help with handwriting, and using a computer. But I wish we had paid more attention to this and either got him help or taught him to type earlier...