Welcome To Holland
In recent years, there’s been a definitive push towards “patient first” language, acknowledging the person before referring to their affliction. For instance, the strabismus patient has become the patient with strabismus, or the TBI patient has become my patient with a brain injury, or even better, my 4 o’clock Vision Therapy patient has become “Johnny”. The push to change the language is for the positive, as people deserve our respect in acknowledging they were and are individuals long before they were troubled with their specific situation. On the worst of days, I’m reminded of what would happen if this push were to never hit the proctological world. Imagine those folks referring to their patients by the troubled anatomical area. Could get messy in a hurry.
A similar problem for me, perhaps from the opposite direction, is the word normal. Not because of who it refers to, but because of who it excludes. Oh, to feel normal again. I’ve written many times in this blog of my younger brother and his limited cognitive development. He has never been normal, will never be normal, and honestly may not even be able to spell the word normal – no joke. He is not normal, at least not in the way you and I might define it. His version of normal involves Shania Twain posters from the 1990’s, wearing clothes which are three sizes too big, and mimicking the sense of humor of some random person he’s met at one point in his life as he challenges those around him to a game of “guess who”. That is his normal, or perhaps, his abnormal. Normal can be an ugly truth for those who are not. I grew up around that ugliness and surely, in some ways, that experience led me to this profession.
Recently, a dear friend, whose son has special needs, shared a short story written by Emily Perl Kingsley.
The story was shared as part of a larger email in which the raw emotion of a parent was obvious. In discussing a recent visit to the park, she wrote:
I watched other children much younger than (my son) playing and having fun. I watched them listening to and responding to instructions from their parents. I felt completely and utterly depressed. I wished that I could have “normal” for once with my two kids. I wished we could enjoy these “normal” things as a family like everyone else was doing. I wished I would have landed in Italy.
Having grownup in a house with a special needs sibling, her email hit me right in the feels.
There’s an old saying (paraphrasing) about not judging a person’s life story by the chapter you walked in on, and this could not be more true than for those in my mind today. My brother is happy, fulfilled, engaged in his own life, and quite limited all at the same time. The same could be said of my friend’s son. None of these finer qualities may become obvious to someone they encounter on the street or in the grocery store, because alas, most times the one and only judgement is they are not “normal”. That’s a hurtful statement sitting in their shoes.
So many times in Vision Therapy we are presented the opportunity to pump someone up, or to boost their self-esteem, regardless of our personal feelings. We should take advantage of that opportunity – every time. One of the best lessons I’ve ever experienced was the value in removing my own judgments from people, and allowing them to just be themselves free from my pre-conceived notions. It’s definitely not easy, and it’s something I work on every single day. If only we could all transfer these skills to real life.
Remember, before you decide someone’s status relative to your concept of normal, it’s important to consider the length of their journey. After all, they may have just landed in Holland.