Processing “Normal”

I wrote this piece about my son Chase back in 2011, when he was three years old. He is now a healthy, joyful nine-year-old who continues to flourish. Chase utilizes his physical gifts and combines them with compassion, exemplary sportsmanship, and determination: the same brave and beautiful traits he displayed even as a toddler.

Chase is my second-born (middle) son. He has rebelled against confinement of any sort, even in the womb. On February 15, 2008, Chase was birthed directly into my hands. I vividly recall pulling all 9.4 pounds of him to my chest and looking into his large eyes. He was abnormally alert, with a furrowed brow and an intensely soulful stare. There was no crying from Chase. He held my gaze with determined curiosity. Without fear. Like an old warrior soul.  

At two years old, Chase was displaying ingenuity in problem-solving ahead of his years: figuring out how to use his toys to climb up onto a windowsill, unlatch locks, lift the glass, and even pop out screens. One night while I was out, my husband sat down for dinner and saw Chase run across our backyard. It took him half an hour to figure out how our son had actually gotten out of the house.

Chase has an adventurous heart and a determined spirit. And still—to this day—NO FEAR, which, for his entire life thus far has scared the bejeezus out of all of us! At the lake last summer, Chase decided to be the life of the Fourth of July party and—for a laugh—made an impulse decision to run off the dock with all his clothes on. He was drowning before his fully clothed Uncle Dave dove in to pull him up and out of the water. Chase didn’t cry afterwards. He quickly shook it off. It took a few minutes for the adults to calm down, though. In the process, we discussed the positives of the experience—how this would teach him a valuable lesson and healthy fear of the water. As we were nodding in agreement, Chase erupted from behind us in a full-on sprint and belly laughter, “yaaaahoooooo!”, cannonballing into the deep water again.

Teachers and caregivers had expressed concern to me about Chase. Although I recognized that he was obviously developmentally delayed in language, he didn’t fit into any boxes on the autism spectrum. Even though he was known to be “excitable” and “easily sidetracked,” the ADHD possibility never sat right with me. I’ve exhausted many pages of books, as well as countless hours and several late nights in online research, only to throw up my hands in both curiosity and frustration, realizing that Chase is indefinable.

Although he often presses his boundaries and sometimes defies authority, this wild abandonment and sincere innocence make it very hard for adults to come down on him. He does not disobey out of anger or malevolence. It is obvious that his spirit is zestfully unbridled. Looking up at you in genuine confusion about the “rules,” his large doe eyes benevolently sparkle under a thick mantle of long black lashes. Since day one, it’s always been through his eyes that he somehow manages to steadily expose his heart and soul. 

All things considered, it got to the point that—despite his innocence and fun-loving nature—I feared for Chase’s safety and sought professional advice for his often-scary impulsivity. Chase began working with a warm and enthusiastic therapist, and after a few weeks of evaluation and therapy, she gave us a diagnosis.

I’ve known from about the time he was ten months old that my little Chasey-man was a square peg in a round hole. Growing up as a square peg myself, I get it. 
I’m very familiar with round holes and how our society misguidedly attempts to neatly place every child into one. Never at any point in history have there been so many labels for our kids, and never at any point in history have there been so many children being born that don’t fit into any of our neat categories. We just can’t keep up with generating all these new labels at a fast-enough pace. So many kids are now defying “normal.”

Off the bat, I struggled to process his diagnosis. I sat with my husband Will that night, going back and forth, incessantly chattering with worry and fear: “How is this going to affect Chase in school?…Among his peers?…OMG, what about his self-confidence!?!?…I just can’t stand the thought of witnessing the destruction of his vibrant spirit!…Okay, on one hand, I get it—yes, processing and addressing the labels ARE important because Chase has to go to school, be able to learn, and be a part of these systems. On the other hand, labels are for cans. CANS, WILL! Not Chase! And on a third hand…Who am I to use my hands intelligently, anyway?!?!…(sigh) I still use them to determine which way is left and right…”  

Blow by blow, pounding myself into an emotional pulp, I couldn’t help but imagine all the worst-case scenarios of what these diagnoses and labels could mean for my son. I saw myself as unequipped to handle any dark roads this might lead us down. As he often does, Will finally interjected a gentle reminder: “Just breeeeeathe…”

I did. As my eyes welled with tears, I inhaled. On my exhale, I imagined all the frustration, fear and sadness, and negative projections exiled from my being. They felt heavy and dense. I silently prayed to find my center and see this situation through the eyes of LOVE.

 It wasn’t long before I gained some clarity. I made a shift from mind logic to
 heart logic.  

With the diagnosis of “Sensory Integration Disorder,” Chase was identified as “hypo-sensitive.” That means he needs greater amounts of sensory input to process his surroundings. He can’t rely on his language to express himself either, yet. So, the “problems” are that his patience expires a little quicker, he’s easily distracted and hard to redirect, and the urge for fuller sensory experiences takes precedence over his logic. His weaknesses are processing and judgment.

What wasn’t addressed in the evaluation were his strengths and the beautiful silver linings.  It took this “diagnosis” for me to see that Chase isn’t flawed. In fact, he may actually be gifted. He was born leading with his heart, not his mind.

 Due to Chase’s craving to REALLY FEEL, he loves deeper, imagines greater, laughs louder, and hugs much tighter than most “normal” kids. People tell me all the time that Chase is joy personified. He just lights up a room with his enthusiastic love for others and his lust for life. He seeks full sensory absorption of every experience, regardless of how routine.  He is the only person I know who lives every moment of life to its fullest potential.

And, no. Unfortunately, this is not “normal.”

I felt an overwhelming rush of gratitude, empowerment, and pride when I began to SEE Chase through the eyes of his Creator. Suddenly it all made more sense why Chase chose me: 

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to bust out of the boxes that formal education, doctrine, and societal opinions have confined my spirit within. Frankly, I’m done with “normal”! My intolerances more than prove we are perfectly appointed to each other. Because I will enrich what makes Chase Chase. I will ensure he flourishes in and shares his inherent, entrusted gifts. He brought a bright torch into this world, and I will see to it that it stays lit.

Perhaps, in these times, we should be honoring that which is birthed anew. Exploring this new generation—all these special kids who are defying normal—with a sense of wonder.

It seems to be one of the biggest challenge for most “normal” folks to lead life from their heart centers: to open their hearts without restraint and learn to live and love with less fear. In today’s world, for most of us, it takes discipline and development to not only understand that the ego is separate from the spirit, but TO LIVE in daily acknowledgement of that divide, and to make a practice out of honoring the heart over the mind.

Recently, I began pondering: What if it didn’t take work? What if we could be born, pre-wired, to live predominantly from the heart, instead of from the mind? What would learning look like? I imagine that it would look foreign. And different. By no means would it be interpreted as “normal.”

I would imagine it to look a lot like Chase.

And I am here to learn.

About the Author | C. S.

C.S. is a seeker, social spelunker, and philosophically promiscuous visionary/creatrix. Married for 15 years, she is the mom of three boys with amazing hearts. Her work is raising them to be loving, conscious men. Her other passion is art. Creating anything, really. But it has to be quick project bursts because she values short labors and rapid successions of new birth.

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3 comments to "Processing “Normal”"

  • Carol

    Great story! I have a son like Chase and it’s been hard because people don’t understand that different kids have different personalities and needs. Our schools don’t really accommodate his gifts or the place where he needs more help. Do you have any recommendations for how to handle schools that don’t get it?

    • C.S.

      Hello Carol. I think the name differs state to state, but your state should have an “Individualized Education Program.” An IEP is a written document that’s developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education. The IEP is created through a team effort and reviewed at least once a year. For Chase, it included speech (language/cognitive processing, specifically) and physical therapy for low core muscle tone (which I was unaware of; it just happened to be caught in the evaluation).

      Although my son did not qualify, there’s also a 504 Plan, which is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.

      I do not appreciate that these definitions use the term “disability,” because it seems most qualifying children are very much extraordinary in emotional, artistic and/or empathetic skill sets (and all that which is not valued in the public school system). And there’s obviously great variations within all the spectrums/labels.

      My son is nine now. (This piece was written six years ago! Hard to believe for me.) Through the school/state services, Chase was given many tools and strategies that have helped him greatly. Due to that, and his natural maturation, he doesn’t qualify for services anymore. While he needs extra help with reading comprehension, at this point he’s doing very well in his classroom.

      Chase just wants/needs MORE physical enrichment and opportunity. The need for movement, muscular stimulation, and (sensory) impact has NOT been his setback—it’s actually become his most self-recognized/ appreciated talent. Due to his love for people/peers and physical exertion, he’s become a strong athlete with amazing hand-eye coordination, balance, and agility.

      That unbridled lust for life I recognized early on? The reluctance to “conform”? Well, I can say I still see the positives of those attributes now as Chase prioritizes JOY and CAMARADERIE over all masculine-dominant competitive displays. He’s literally “changing the game” on every field he steps on. It’s amazing.

      While I’m by no means an expert on the topic of state/school services, I will encourage my fellow mom-warriors out there to find them, and advocate hard for your child. At the same time, I cheer you on in enriching those “disabilities”—which often can be reframed into “STRENGTHS”—in any way you can, outside of the (often limiting) school and societal systems/social labels/definitions. There’s always treasure there.

  • Lali

    Absolutely beautiful. This brought tears to my eyes. We need more parents like this woman, who recognize their kids’ gifts rather than being so quick to slap a label onto them, which is all too prevalent nowadays.