What is normal?
I don’t ask you this in a effort to cause an existential crisis. I ask you this simply as a mind exercise. What do we consider normal?
nor·mal (adjective): conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
Medical personnel diagnose individuals on the basis of abnormality. Over hundreds of years, data has been collected on how the body of most humans function, and anything that deviates from this is considered abnormal, worthy of having its own distinct name and treatment. For example, normal human blood pressure is considered to be 120/80. Anyone with a significantly higher blood pressure is considered to have hypertension. Anyone with a significantly lower blood pressure is said to have hypotension.
But different bodies work different ways, and some people have blood pressure that deviates from the normal, and yet, it is healthy for them.
I spend a lot of my time on tumblr, reading fanfictions, and perusing about the internet. A lot of the internet is dedicated to people who stray from normal; you can find help groups for people with mental disorders, you can find webpages for people who knit cozies for their toasters… etcetera, etcetera.
A term I have heard a lot of lately is ‘neuroatypical’, or ‘neurodivergent’. These terms are used in the context of someone who does not follow normal neural patterns, whether that be in the form of mental illness, a developmental disorder, or any other kind of neural irregularity.
I don’t agree with the use of these terms.
For there to be an ‘atypical’, there first must be a ‘typical’, that is to say, atypical is a subjective adjective. To define atypical, you must first have a typical to compare it against. Anything that doesn’t fit into the typical group is deemed atypical.
But what does typical neural function look like?
I believe there is no such thing as normal neural function. Who is to say that how one person acts, or responds, or feels, is abnormal? Can we really say with conviction we know and understand what a brain is?
Atypical is society specific as well. What is deemed acceptable and normal in our Western culture may not be ‘normal’ in different cultures. Take mental illness, example. The behaviours and attributes that we attribute to mental illness aren’t universal. Some cultures believe it is normal to have an inner voice that you talk to, whereas other cultures believe that to be abnormal.
What you define as atypical also depends on how much you know. I am a hand flapper; that is, I flap my hands when excited, scared, or sometimes just because I feel I must. Many interpret hand flapping as a sign of autism; divergent from the normal.
But hand flapping is a type of stimming, a way for the body to deal with too little, or too much stimulation. Everyone stims in some way, such as tapping their fingers on the table, bouncing their leg, or clicking their pen on and off. But for some reason, hand flapping is attributed solely to autism, and therefore is deemed abnormal.
I believe there are two main reasons why terms like neuroatypical/neurodivergent exist. Firstly, they exist to comfort those who want to be normal. If you can identity what is abnormal in neat, discrete categories, you can conform yourself into those categories, and prove to yourself you are normal. In this way, you feel you fit into society.
Secondly, they exist to prove to others that they are not normal, and don’t conform to society. Many individuals want to be different, and find being divergent from others a novelty. By having discrete categories that define normal, they can exist outside those terms and be their own person.
These terms need not even exist. No one can really determine what is normal, or what should be normal. Do we really need to determine how we should all act and feel?
Be yourself. Whether you are like others does not matter. You will always be your own individual, and you will find people who accept you for who you are wherever you go.