What is normal anyway?

I have a son who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy before he turned 1-year-old; he is 6 now. He has 3 younger brothers living at home with him as well as his mother and myself. I have 4 sisters, 1 brother, 1 brother-in-law, 2 nieces, and 2 nephews. My wife has 1 sister, 1 brother, and 1 sister-in-law. Counting my parents and my wife’s parents, we have 23 people in our “immediate family.” If that number is expanded to include aunts, uncles, and cousins we are talking about 50+ people. Caedmon is the only one with Cerebral Palsy.

We used to live in a small village in North Carolina called Highlands and he was the only person we knew of with Cerebral Palsy. He was the only one we were aware of at his elementary school with CP, and certainly the only child using a wheel chair. Does that make him abnormal? The idea that hs is not normal is inferred in most of the questions that we field about Caedmon. But I must ask, “What is normal anyway?”

I am the only member of my immediate family that is 6’5″ tall; am I abnormal?
My sister-in-law Lisa is the only masochist who volunteers for triathlons; is she abnormal?
My sister Gina is the only one who suffered a spinal cord injury and now uses a cane and a wheelchair; is she abnormal?
My brother Daniel is the only one whose metabolism is faster than his food consumption; is he abnormal?

I trust that my point is clear. Normal is very difficult to define. Eyes can be green, brown, blue, and hazel. Some people have fair skin, some darker, and still some peppered with freckles. You might be tall or short, skinny or muscular, bald or hairy, or any number of other variations within the human form. So why is someone with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, or Autism abnormal? Why not you? Why not me?

Are we sure normal is even a good thing? Consider some of the word’s synonyms…

average, commonplace, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, typical, or unexceptional.

Do any of us want to be defined by those words? The opposite is actually true. We are infatuated with terms like…

Unique, exceptional, a-cut-above, out-of-the-box,  extraordinary, or above average.

Yet, when you look at the classic antonyms of “normal” look what we find…

abnormal, irregular, odd, strange, and unusual.

They all have a negative connotation don’t they? Sadly, these are the words that float through most stranger’s minds when they see my son. Those that know him wouldn’t use those words, but many of us struggle in the depths of our souls with the public perception. Why are things this way?

When we see a child in a wheelchair, why don’t we think exceptional and extraordinary? Why do we drift toward the more negative ideas?

I have my ideas, but I will save them for another blog. Today, I just want us to reconsider “normal.” I want each of us to embrace our abnormality and call it beautiful. What makes me unique, makes me special. Caedmon has Cerebral Palsy, so he is said to have special needs. I have special needs too. To my wife, all of my needs are special 🙂

We all have an image of “normal” in our minds and it’s a bad thing. To a young girl with an eating disorder, the skewed idea of “normal” is destroying her body. To the athlete tempted by steroids, the skewed idea of normal is contaminating him. To the child in a wheelchair, the skewed idea of normal can rob him of hope.

This idea of “normal” leads to hate. This “normal” leads to genocide.

If you and I can truly accept that nobody’s normal, then we can begin to celebrate the majesty of our unique design. 

I thank God that nobody’s normal. Not in my house anyway.


  1. Ryan,

    I try to read your blog when I get a chance and this one just hit such a nerve that I am so glad I found it today. My son (also 6yrs old) was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder and ADHD when he was 4. By outward appearances he is considered by most to be “normal” but his behavior can, at times, border on the ridiculous and, to others, downright weird. It saddens me when people ask why he acts the way he does or laughs at his behavior – then want to know why can’t he act normal. I want people to embrace his individuality and love him for who he is – a wonderful little boy with a heart of gold! Thank you for these words – we all need to realize that nobody’s normal…..Thanks again!

    1. Stacie, I am glad you found encouragement in this post. I am sorry for the way people have communicated with you about your son. Often times, it isn’t mean spirited but compassion shrouded by ignorancensitive words when insensitive words are uttered. I didn’t know what to say to someone who walked or talked in an unfamiliar way 6 years ago; I was probably as insensitive as the next guy. Now, my sensitivity is different and I hope to help others develop a similar sensitivity. Ignorance is our enemy, not the people. We have the benefit of living with our kids 24/7 while others may only see them in those tense moments. As hard as it can be, we have to patiently educate others of the reality of our “normal.” The truth is, it is their “normal” too, they just aren’t as close to it. I hope that this continues to be a source of encouragement for you 🙂

  2. Great piece, Ryan! How sad that we all waste so much time trying to “fit in” instead of celebrating our different-ness. How much more colorful and alive the world would be if we all accepted ourselves and others just the way we all are.

  3. We’re beginning to see the “ignorant compassion” more and more often. Occasionally, I’ll still have an off day where it hits a nerve but those days are getting fewer and farther between. I came across a website where you can order awareness products (shirts, mugs, car magnets, etc) for all kinds of disorders and other issues. Some of them are downright sassy. I might need to consider having a few on hand for the days when I need a little sass. One of my favorites was a kids’ shirt that said, “Keep staring. Maybe you’ll cure my autism and then we can work on your social skills.”

    I love reading your posts! Keep ’em coming!

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