A few days ago after yoga practice, I was talking to a friend about kids, and she told me that her son had autism. When I asked about his schooling, I’m not sure how I phrased the question, but I suspect I asked whether he went to classes with normal kids, and she responded that he had special classes.
Later in our conversation, I mentioned another yoga classmate who has four kids, two of them autistic. This classmate had posted on Facebook about going postal one day at a doctor’s office because a nurse/receptionist made some comment contrasting her two autistic kids against her two “normal” kids.
My yoga friend sympathized with my other classmate and said it drove her crazy when people used the term normal to contrast them with her kids. This statement caused my head to spin because I was thinking I had used that precise term at the beginning of our conversation, and I wondered why my friend hadn’t gone postal on me.
Although my head was spinning, I asked my friend how to appropriately describe her son. She responded that autistic might be OK, but she didn’t like any term that ended in “ic,” so maybe it would be better to say, “kid with autism.”
But that didn’t really help with identifying the other kids. Instead of delving into that, I veered into the topic of political correctness, and she quickly agreed that that was a problem, with too many thin-skinned, overly sensitive people.
Thankfully, the conversation drifted in a different direction, with no apparent damage done to our friendship. But I was still uncomfortable about how to deal with this issue in the future, so I decided to check the internet for an answer.
Lucky for me, a forum on Yahoo.com had a provocative, on-point question:
- Should autistic kids be in the same class as normal kids?
Not surprisingly, many parents of autistic kids took umbrage at the term “normal,” primarily because it implied that their kids where abnormal. In their minds, there was no such thing as a normal kid; all kids had their idiosyncrasies, so why should their kids be the only ones labeled? The devil’s advocate in me responded that all kids may have their idiosyncrasies and “special needs,” but the special needs of autistic kids often requires a separate classroom.
Finally, though, one parent provided me with a solution when she suggested that she didn’t want her autistic child “mainstreamed.” The dictionary defines this term as, “to place (as a disabled child) in regular school classes,” and although regular may be almost as objectionable as normal, the term “mainstream” avoids both connotations, and instead suggests “nonmainstream,” which is comparable to special needs.
I’m OK with that, and hope I remember that the next time I open my mouth.