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Indistinguishable from Normal – Conclusion

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Indistinguishable From Normal – II

Normalcy” is not the goal. Neither is “passing for normal.”

I’ve been struggling with where to take this theme – how to bring things to a close, in some grand philosophical finale. Those of you who frequent this space on a regular basis will notice that I have slipped a few days in my “weekly” post. That’s because I had proverbial writers’ block.

All of us are, to one degree or another, both distinguishable and indistinguishable from “Normal.” If we were all clones of some idealized template, cookie-cutter fashion, life would be very dull. If we were all equally matched, there would be no reason to engage in sports (the outcome would always be a tie score). If we were interchangeable it wouldn’t matter where we went to school (all professors being equally competent) or who we married (other than gender preference). But of course life isn’t like that, and we all do differ from one another. Even “identical” twins have slightly different sets of mitochondrial DNA. The real key is: Which differences give us a competitive advantage, or put us at a competitive disadvantage? A lot of engineers and computer programmers have mild (or, not so mild) atypicality. The same cognitive structures that enable Temple Grandin to do Computer Assisted Design in her head also give rise to her autism. A lot of concert musicians have both ASD and perfect pitch. And so on. ASD gives and takes away, at the same time.

Becoming “Normal,” or even “Indistinguishable from Normal” is not the goal of intervention. If you are an adult on the spectrum, what I am saying here will come as no surprise to you. You are probably used to who you are, and take offense at the idea that you need to be fixed, or “cured.” The option of sometimes “passing as normal” is Judy Endow’s pet peeve, and I see her point.

If, on the other hand, you are the parent of a young child with ASD, or a therapist of some sort, your reaction may be one of shock, anger, sadness, or disdain. Perhaps I sound fatalistic or defeatist. Perhaps someday we will be able to retrain or reroute neurons to achieve a definitive, biologically based cure. Perhaps in your lifetime. But even then, the question will remain: “What are we striving to achieve?” (And if someday we learn how to grown new neurons in children with ASD, what are the ethics of applying the same techniques to normal children, to create a race of super-geniuses? Sounds far-fetched, but it’s coming.)

So, if “normalcy” is not the goal, then what is the goal? In my view, the goal of intervention is to come out the other end of it with the ability to compete on the playing field of life: to find a job, to find (if one wants it) a mate. To be safe in the world, and to find meaning in one’s existence. I don’t know how to teach the last one.



Dr Coplan signing books at Barnes and Noble





James Coplan, MD is an Internationally recognized clinician, author, and public speaker in the fields of early child development, early language development and autistic spectrum disorders. Stay connected, join Dr. Coplan on Facebook and Twitter.





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