Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What is "Normal"?

Many years ago I was subbing in a high school biology class.   The topic of the day was genetic variations such as color blindness.  As usual, I expanded the lesson to include my knowledge.  I studied genetics and even extracted DNA as a graduate student.  Without fail the kids encourage me to tell stories.  Anything to deviate from the normal monotony of the school day.  On this day I remember posing a question to the students.

How do we know that the way we perceive the world is the same as others?

I talked about the color blindness and wondered if we really have any idea how others really perceive colors, sounds and touch.  I thought I was giving some good examples and raising some interesting philosophical questions.  The kids started laughing.  Quiet giggles at first.  Followed by real laughter.  Not what a teacher wants to hear when trying to open minds to new ideas.

I looked around the class and quickly realized my mistake.  Sitting in the front row closest to the door was a student named Jenna.  I was lecturing about how some of us may have very different ways of perceiving the world and the kids were all looking at Jenna.  I had totally forgotten that she was blind.

For this bunch of students the idea of different ways of perceiving our environment was nothing new.  Most of them had known Jenna their entire lives and watched her interpret the world in her own ways.  She never let the absence of sight stop her from doing what she wanted.  Most spectators at a Friday night football game didn't have any clue that one of the drummers had been blind since birth.

After laughing with the class, I expanded the idea.  Could some things we find comforting like a shower or a soft touch actually cause pain for others?  They scoffed at the idea a little.  When I took certain medications to treat my migraines, the shower became a place of torture.  Each spray of water felt like a needle being poked into my body.

When Gabe was little and struggling to learn to talk, I noticed that he seemed to hear sounds differently than the rest of us.  "Keys" sounded more like "kitties".  I think this would probably be called an auditory processing disorder but I never pursued a diagnosis on it.  Instead we worked to help him "translate" what he hears into what the rest of us expect to hear.

Now I am learning that my understanding of the world is more different than I thought.  I have always been slightly "off".  A friend called me an "odd duck".  Actually she would say "from one odd duck to another".  I am realizing my special odd duckiness could actually really be Asperger's.

Yet another failed career has had me searching for answers.  I read a post about Asperger's and saw myself.  I read more about it on another site and saw myself even more clearly.  This type of realization happened once before.  I was watching Oprah discuss with a guest the horrible side effects of a medicine.  I don't remember the medicine that was discussed.  I do remember thinking that the horrible side effect was somewhat normal for me.

Now I am on medications for anxiety and depression but... I sometime miss the out of body floating feeling.  Too bad it's not normal.