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Is this normal? - A guide to discussing differences between children

All people are different.

Yet we compare ourselves to others all the time. It's not the healthiest of habits, especially when social media is thrown into the mix. For individuals with disabilities and their families, comparison with other, "typical" peers can be a constant source of anxiety and frustration. Worst yet, sometimes the comparison is made by an outside party (grandparent, cousin, teacher, stranger) and is usually followed by unsolicited advice.

I'm here to tell you that being different is ok.

Variety is the spice of life. That's what makes life beautiful. But beyond that trite placation, there is a scientific reason why we shouldn't expect everyone to be the same. Statistically, everyone is different.

It's called the normal distribution.

It's also called a bell curve. It is a statistical representation of the extent to which humans vary in every measurable way. 50% of people will be above average, and 50% of people will be below average. Roughly 68% of human beings measured are within one Standard Deviation away from average (either above or below average). 95% of people will be within 2 Standard Deviations. 99.7% of people are within 3 Standard Deviations of the mean. For any measureable human trait, we would expect the scores to fall somewhere within the normal distribution.

Discrepancy model .jpg

Above: a Normal Distribution displaying a discrepancy between IQ and Achievement.

(This is an "outdated" model of identifying students with Specific Learning Disability, still in use in many states across the nation)

"What does this mean?" You may ask.

We are ALL above average in some ways and below average in others. Granted, some traits are more important than others (for example, blood pressure vs. number of arm hairs). But it's hard to keep in mind that one measurement does not encapsulate the entirety of a complex human being.

What it means for your child:

Too often in education we use one or two tests exclusively in evaluating the progress and development of a child. This is unfair to the child. Yes, they are incredibly useful tools and should shape educational decisions, but we need to keep in mind that different tests measuring the same things can produce statistically significant results. On top of that, the child could be making gains in ways we haven't even thought of trying to measure. We need to keep our eyes open for successes, and build from there.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

Some people are just lucky enough to keep their weaknesses hidden most of the time. Just because a weakness is visible to others does not mean that a child is "not normal", or even that something must be done to correct them. It's perfectly normal to be different. We need to know our strengths, recognize our weaknesses, and allow the things that we love to do help us get better at the things we need to improve.

What are your experiences?

What are your experiences with comparisons between individuals with disabilities to the "typical" population? What do you say in those situations?

Comment, tweet, and share!

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