Pursue a life beyond what’s ‘normal’

Colin walking with geese

The TED Talk that changed how I saw my son

“Today I have just one request. Please don’t tell me I’m normal.” These are the first words of Faith Jegede Cole’s TED Talk, and they changed me forever.

It was December 2012, and I was struggling to come to terms with my son’s recent autism diagnosis. I came across a link to Faith’s brisk talk — I wasn’t yet part of the TED team — and I decided to see what she had to say. When I was done, I scrubbed to the beginning to watch it over again. Then I sent the link to my wife.

When your child is diagnosed with autism, you’re inundated with reports and evaluations outlining the struggles your child is going to face, how difficult their life will be and all the work you have ahead of you. You immerse yourself in a pool of deficits wondering if you’ll ever climb out again, or whether you’ll learn to swim.

But here was someone who wasn’t framing the conversation in terms of deficits. Instead, Faith was talking about her incredible brothers and how their autism made them unique and special. Here was someone saying it’s not just OK to be different, it’s better. Here was someone telling me to look at my son in a different light, to notice all his gifts and potential.

Since then, I’ve come to think of Faith’s talk as my introduction to the neurodiversity movement, which celebrates diverse minds and ways of being — and understands, as Faith says, “Everyone’s got a gift inside of us, and in all honesty, the pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential.”

The talk

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