What is “Normal”?

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, a day to celebrate the lives of those who have an extra 21st chromosome. It’s also a reminder that we should love and value all people with disabilities.

Speaking of which, a couple of my fellow contributors over at the Ignitum Today blog have been asking for lots of prayers lately. Andrew and Christina were married in October of 2011. Just one month later they happily discovered that Christina was with child. However, their elation soon turned to concern when their unborn daughter, Maria Isabella, was diagnosed with Spina Bifida. Right now, Christina and little ‘Bella’ are in recovery mode after undergoing fetal repair surgery at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Earlier this month on their blog, Christina wrote:

I sometimes imagine Maria Isabella watching her little cousins swimming or running around the yard and her not being able to keep up….and it breaks my heart to think that she might not be able to do all of the *normal* things that other kids do.

But then I ask myself, “What is normal?” Really, Seriously. What is normal?

I don’t know exactly what to say. I haven’t come up with some easy or funny/witty answer to that question. But I do know one thing……this beloved creature within me, our beautiful and precious daughter, is a gift. She is a gift who the Lord desires to use to pour out blessing on to those around her….I just pray that as a mother, I might help her to truly be everything that The Father has created her for.

Read the rest of her moving reflection.

Tragically, unborn children like little Maria Isabella and those with with Down Syndrome are killed in the womb all the time to “shield (them) from the misery” of never being “normally” functioning human beings. But, as Christina asks, what is “normal?” And who says we all have to have the same abilities to be happy? Do we not all develop our own sense of “normalcy” based on our individual likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities? Why would children with disabilities, though they may not be the picture of perfect health, be any different?

In fact, Researchers at Newcastle University recently applied standard self-assessment techniques used to appraise children’s levels of happiness to 500 young people with cerebral palsy. The results demonstrated that “Disabled children in the North of England have the same range of happiness and unhappiness as all children.” As they grow up and develop their sense of self, “they see their disabilities as part of who they are…(and) they perceived their position in life no differently than their friends in the general population.” In other words, yes, children with disabilities will develop their own sense of “normalcy” just like anyone else and they will enjoy their lives immensely…if they’re given the opportunity.

For example: take a look at this video of a little boy with spina bifida playing outside with his big sister. Can he ride a bike (what many would call a “normal” children’s activity), like she does? No. But this “crazy driver” did just get a brand new wheelchair to push himself around the driveway in and, judging by the squeals of delight, they’re both having an equally good time.

As a disabled person, myself, I can tell you from experience that life with a disability is still just that…life, no better, no worse. Sure it has some challenges and limitations, but it is just as capable of being lived and enjoyed as life with an “able body” is.

None of this is to say that disabilities are good things that should not be cured or treated, if possible, but they are not, as many believe, incompatible with life and the people with these disabilities are still human beings whose lives still have meaning and infinite value. They should be loved and cared for, not killed.

I hope you will join me in praying for little Maria Isabella (and her parents) and all unborn children with disabilities. May they grow to discover for themselves what ‘normal’ life is like for them and enjoy all the beauty and goodness that life can bring.

Beautiful video for World Down Syndrome Day:

Chelsea Zimmerman is the editor-in-chief for Catholic Lane and a managing editor at Ignitum Today. She often writes and speaks about life issues and Catholic spirituality. She has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock. Her website is Reflections of a Paralytic.