Defining “Normal”

By Connie Horn

Normal DefinitionRecently I received a “Disability and Me” article from Zacharay Lassiter, a young man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. His recent article A Struggle to be Normal really had me thinking about what normal is.

According to, normal means: conforming to the standard or common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

The following is a paragraph from Zacharay’s article…

Many of us with disabilities wish so hard that we were normal, that we could walk like a normal person, see like a normal person, hear like a normal person, or think like a normal person.  Many of us start to get angry when we struggle to be normal and fail.  We don’t feel worth our friends’ time, and feel like we’re the drain in relationships when in fact we can be just as loving or caring as anyone else.

Have you ever wondered if you were normal?

Human behavior is complex, determined by interactions between a variety of internal and external influences. Do you evaluate your behavior on your perception of what normal is?

Often when we decide what is normal, it is in the sense of determining whether the way we think and act is the same as… or similar to… the majority of people. Social standards can have a strong influence on our idea of “normal.” You can even purchase books or take a quiz to find out if you are normal!

Zacharay writes that many people with disabilities wish they could walk like a normal person, see like a normal person, hear like a normal person or think like a normal person.  

Throughout my life I have heard the following statements, have you?

  • Would you eat like a normal person
  • You need to drive like a normal person
  • Can’t you walk like a normal person
  • Act like a normal person
  • Look what you are wearing, can’t you dress like a normal person

When someone says “can’t you walk like a normal person?” What does it mean to walk? Some people take big steps, others take small ones. Some people skip or sashay when they walk. Some point their toes inward and others drag their feet.

I never asked, even though I really didn’t know, what doing something like a normal person really meant.

Who in society should we observe and model our behavior after, so we are able to act normal?  Our teachers, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, the lady down the street…who?

It seems like we are always trying to figure out what normal is.

But in all honesty, things change overtime, for instance, mythsabout people with Asperger’s syndrome. Increased knowledge and awareness about what it is have changed over the years.

I tend to agree with Zacharay when he asks, “What is normal and how do you define it?” I would love to hear from you.

7 Responses

  1. I like what Tom Reynolds, theologian and professor, says – he says there is a “cult of normalcy” – truly, the real question is what is normal? How can we say normal exists with the diversity of people and the diversity of gifts people have to offer. I wish “being normal” meant we all loved and respected everyone as a child of God.

  2. I give a talk every semester to a sixth grade health class at my children’s school when the class gets to the part about the immune system. I have MS, an autoimmune disease. I can hardly walk with a walker, I use a wheelchair when I go places. I go beyond just the medical aspect of the disease. I ask the kids “Am I normal?” They all nod their heads and say “Yes.” I say that I am different than most people, but that’s just it – Different than Most People – this doesn’t equal “abnormal.”

  3. I think that there are “norms” out there – things that are of a common denominator at a point in time. But – that having many of the “normal” characteristics does not absolutely constitute “better” or “good” or “right” any of the time – even in walking or talking. We all do well to remember that some things that are “normal” in today’s society are not acceptable or good in the sight of God at all actually and we should not be “normal” in that way.

    Right away my mind goes to Rom 12:2 Here it is in two versions which lend interesting understanding to this topic -NRSV 1st and NIrV 2nd:

    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.

    Bethesda often has the byline: “Lives Transformed” – it’s a “normal activity” for those working or living where Bethesda operates!

  4. I read the following article on MSN today. See below. Working in a Psychiatric facility, everyone we treat there is “normal” to me; trying to make some sense of his or her life, dealing with the daily struggles, and still come out of it OK by bedtime. However, there are always going to be others out there, whose own struggles lead them to believe that they are “better” than the person whom they have just judged as being “abnormal”. Being sinners all, they too are “just normal”.

    Waiter hailed as hero after standing up for boy with Down syndrome Lisa Flam, NBC News
    A Houston waiter who refused to serve a customer last week did not lose his job. Instead, Michael Garcia is being celebrated for standing up for a little boy with Down syndrome, with people stopping to shake his hand at the restaurant where regulars are made to feel like part of the family. Five-year-old Milo Castillo has lots of friends in preschool and loves to give hugs.
    One of those regulars, Kim Castillo, was at Laurenzo’s Prime Rib in Houston last week when several waiters stopped by her table. Her 5-year-old son, Milo, who has Down syndrome and whose speech is a little delayed, was showing off his new words and talking about his birthday the week earlier. A family sitting nearby asked to move away from the Castillo family’s table, and a man in the group made a disparaging remark about Milo.
    “I heard the man say, ‘Special needs children need to be special somewhere else,’” Garcia told NBC affiliate KPRC-TV in. “My personal feelings took over, and I told him, ‘I’m not going to be able to serve you, Sir.’”
    “‘How could you say that?’” Garcia said he asked the man before he left the restaurant with his party. “‘How could you say that about a beautiful 5-year-old angel?’” Castillo, who noticed the family move but didn’t hear the remark, was grateful when she later found out what Garcia had done, even more so when she learned that the other family were regular customers as well.
    “I was impressed that somebody would step out of their own comfort level and put their job on the line as well as to stand up for somebody else,” she said. “I know Michael did it from his heart, and from reacting to the situation. I don’t think he stopped and thought about what he was doing.” Of the other family, she said, “It’s sad that they’re ignorant.”
    Castillo, 40, wrote in an online post that she has been taking Milo out to eat since he was born, and said her son, her only child with husband Eric, is better behaved than most children and was not misbehaving that night. Milo, age 5: His mom takes him out to restaurants frequently and says he’s very well behaved.
    “Was he loud?” she wrote. “Maybe a little in the moment, but honestly, the adults at our table were three times louder than he was. … If he had been obnoxious, which like any other 5-year-old he can be, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the family asking to move.”
    Garcia, who has worked at the restaurant for about two years, knew the Castillos, and has his own special way of greeting Milo. “Normally when they arrive, I pick him up at the door and carry him to the table,” Garcia told KPRC. As news of Garcia’s action spread across the Internet, with praise for him on the restaurant’s Facebook page and elsewhere, customers have been seeking out Garcia. “The business has just been huge,” said Candace Roberts, the Castillos’ regular server at Laurenzo’s, adding that patrons are mentioning Garcia’s story. “People are coming in to shake his hand and eat at our restaurant and loving it.”
    Castillo said she has never heard anybody say something negative about her son, a boy who hates fighting, loves to hug and has lots of preschool chums, both with and without Down syndrome. But she said she has seen kids and adults stare at him or take “second and third glances,” and has witnessed parents pull their kids away from Milo on the playground. “It’s just ignorance,” she said. “Kids aren’t going to catch anything from him.”
    She hopes that the story of Garcia’s kindness will lead to greater tolerance for others, especially for those like Milo, who look different than other kids. “It’s just impressive to see the outpouring of love and support,” she said, adding that she hopes the story encourages “people to stand up for other people who can’t stand up for themselves and that it’s worth taking the risk.” “Maybe next time they’ll think twice before they utter those words or say something derogatory about somebody else,” she said.

  5. I appreciate your responses. I think everyone one of us face challenges in our lives. We are all different and unique. We have all had different backgrounds growing up, different families, look differently, sound differently, and act differently. We will not rid the world of impatient, rude, insensitive people, but we can control how we react to them. I think part of normal is understanding that everyone is different and loving yourself for who you are and not being pressured to be “normal.”

  6. I was told through my whole growing up “youare not normal, you will never be normal, you are stupid, you will never succeed, no one will ever wnat to be around you, etc.” I listened to those kinds of cmments until I was 33 and fell apart. I was not what we describe a person with any kind of disability, I was “Normal” but I had no idea whwat that meant.

    OF course, I got help and over time I came to find out that I was a real person and I could do and be anyone I wanted to be. By this time I was in my 40’s.

    In my 50’s I found my way to Bethesda Lutheran Communities where I work with Independent living persons with a number of different intellectual delays. These people have been responsible for teaching me what “Normal” means.

    “Normal” is being the best person you can be. It has nothing to do with comparing yourself to others, with what job you have or don’t have, with what you look like, wear, or own and it certainly has nothing to do with a definition in a dictionary. They just want to be the best that they can be as a person.

    Life is so much easier that way. They do not compare themselves to others.

    Now I can’t say that every person I serve has arrived at this state, but those who have are the happiest people I know. Oh, they still wish they could have different things, they want to go places, they want to marry and have children but they are happy with who they are and they will work to see if they can get to the place they want to be but they do it because they want it not because someone else has it and they want to be like them.

    I am blessed to be able to help enable these people toward being the best they can be and the gift I have received in doing this work is that I am happier than I have ever been by just working to be the best person I can be. That is what I believe “normal” is and so do the people that I serve.

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