Redefining ‘normal’: Embracing individuality for every child's journey to success

Human beings are inherently diverse, possessing a spectrum of physical, cognitive, and emotional traits. File picture: Pexels

Human beings are inherently diverse, possessing a spectrum of physical, cognitive, and emotional traits. File picture: Pexels

Published May 7, 2024


By Alison Scott

The term "normal" often evokes notions of conformity to a standard, yet who sets this standard remains variable and subject to debate. Parents raising uniquely developing children often grapple with the internalised belief that their child does not fit this standard. This belief can carry unnecessary pressure and stigma for both the child and parents alike.

Shift the Paradigm

What if we reframed the conversation to focus on a child's individual needs rather than labelling them as "not normal"? Instead of striving for conformity, parents should prioritise understanding and addressing their child's unique needs to foster optimal development and wellbeing. These needs demand skilled guidance, compassionate support, and a fundamental belief in every individual's potential for growth and change. Establishing safe and trusting partnerships with others who recognise and celebrate each child's individuality is crucial.

Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and founder of the Amen Clinics specialising in brain health and neuropsychiatry, advocates for a personalised approach to mental health assessment and treatment. His work underscores the importance of recognising individual brain differences and promoting brain-healthy lifestyles. However, terms like "neurodivergence" have unfortunately been used to generalise a spectrum of "disorders" rather than celebrate individuality.

Diversity is Desirable

Human beings are inherently diverse, possessing a spectrum of physical, cognitive, and emotional traits. This diversity not only enriches human experience but also contributes to the success of organisations that value diverse perspectives. While the corporate world embraces diversity to remain innovative and competitive, the education sector (including parents) has been slower to translate this ethos into classrooms and staff compositions. By embracing and celebrating diversity, school communities can create more inclusive and supportive environments for all children.

Personalised Learning Promotes Thriving

Every child possesses unique strengths, challenges, and interests that shape their learning journey. Recognising and accommodating these differences is essential for supporting holistic growth. In the 21st century, the one-size-fits-all approach to education is outdated. Parents and educators must adopt personalised strategies that tailor support and resources to meet each child's specific needs, nurturing their passions and talents. This may involve adjusting educational strategies and curricula, extending the depth of content as a child initiates learning, seeking specialised services, or offering learning environments that nurture each child’s passions and talents.

Destigmatising Differences

Labelling children as "not normal" perpetuates stigma and undermines their self-esteem, leading to feelings of inadequacy and exclusion in the child, but also in the parent of that child. By reframing differences as individual needs, parents can foster a more positive and accepting mindset within their families and communities. This shift in perspective promotes empathy, reduces stigma, and cultivates a culture of inclusivity where everyone feels valued and respected.

Empowering Resilience and Self-Acceptance

When children feel understood and supported for who they are, they are more likely to develop confidence, autonomy, and a sense of belonging. This foundation of self-worth and constructive self-awareness enables them to navigate life's challenges with very desirable grit. Rather than seeking to "fix" children to fit a narrow definition of normalcy, let's celebrate their individuality and equip them for success in their unique journeys.

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*Scott is Executive Principal of Bellavista School.