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Normal? Typical?

June 10, 2012

This week during a meeting, I explained that “intellectual disability does not necessarily indicate that something is wrong. Humans have intelligence that ranges from genius to – those requiring assistance in many areas of life. It is normal to have people with a range of intellectual abilities. People with intellectual impairments are part of the normal range of humans”.

Today I looked up the definition of normal and realize that I did not use that term correctly when I spoke during that meeting. The on-line Oxford English dictionary definition of normal includes: ‘an adjective meaning conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected’. A parent of one of the children I serve said to me, when describing her son, “I know he is smart.” Her son’s intelligence conforms to her standard, her expected.

These two examples describe the contradictions and challenges that I have with the term normal. My colleagues (who have similar difficulties) and I try to use the word ‘typical’ as an alternative. So, I looked up the definition of typical. It is an adjective meaning having the distinctive qualities of a particular type of person or thing; symbolic. I have the distinctive qualities of me. If I am symbolic, that symbol has been created by my culture – my society. It is potentially contradictory. I have the distinctive qualities of me but I may not be symbolic.

This all sounds a little confusing. I don’t have any answers to cut through the confusion. However, it is much more clear to me why I have so much trouble with using norm-referenced tests to assess children’s performance. If a child needs assistance, can’t we just assist them? Do they have to be compared to other children before we decide if we can support them?


From → labels/diagnoses

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