Our family adopted a baby boy last week. We met him and held him, and now we are anxiously waiting for his arrival in Virginia. During one of my “nesting” errands this week, I saw an acquaintance I don’t see very often. She had heard the news from a mutual friend and was eager for details. I proudly told her about our sweet baby and how excited we are to bring him home. She listened and smiled and seemed happy for us. Then she paused, looked at me somewhat seriously, and asked, “Is he…normal?”
Naively, I questioned, “What do you mean?”
Before she could even answer, I swallowed hard and knew exactly what she was going to say.
“Well, you know. Is he special needs?”
Numerous responses raced through my mind. Things like “No, he’s a baby” and “How would you define normal?” I restrained myself, though, and answered her question matter-of-factly, explaining his needs in rather general terms and redirecting the conversation.
Later, I reflected on it and realized that it has been quite awhile since I have encountered questions like that. I am blessed by a church, a homeschool co-op, and a circle of friends that know that people with special needs ARE “normal”—at least as normal as the rest of us.
I mean, what is normal? Is it a standard of some kind? Is it a minimum? Is it a statistical majority?
What makes one person normal and another not? Is my daughter who is left-handed not normal because she is a statistical minority? Was my grandpa not normal because he required a wheelchair to get around? Am I not normal because I like to wear shoes all day long while my family goes barefoot?
I know being “normal” isn’t a biblical measure. I did a keyword search of the NIV on Bible Gateway and the word “normal” did not appear one time in the entire Bible. The closest thing I found was the use of the word “normally” in 2 Kings 11:7. So, maybe to God there is no need for such a label? If He doesn’t need it, do we?
Let me clarify that I feel no resentment toward this acquaintance even though her questions struck a nerve. Before my youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome a little over three years ago, I may have said the same thing.
I have learned many, many things from my daughter, but one of the most important is the limitations of labels. Soon after her birth, I was privileged to read an article by Kathie Snow about “People First” language. In it she makes a compelling case for thinking carefully about how we label and identify one another. Rather than saying my daughter is a “Down syndrome child,” which I often hear, Ms. Snow (and now I) would advocate calling her “a child with Down syndrome.” Because, after all, isn’t she a child first? The Down syndrome is just a small part of who she is. There is so much more.
While not intended to be a biblical concept, I think it very much is. Thankfully, God does not label his people. He made us in His image (Genesis 1:27), He sent His Son to save all of us (John 3:16), and He values each and every one of us as if there were only one of us (Matthew 10:29-31). Shouldn’t we use “God’s people first” language to speak of—and even think of—each other? Shouldn’t we see and value one another with His eyes?
Children ARE not “special needs”; some of them just HAVE special needs. The difference one word makes is tremendous. We are not defined by our attributes, whether they are amazing talents or medical diagnoses. We are defined by the One who created us. While I waited for my daughter to be born, I knew that she may have an extra chromosome. That worried me greatly…for about a week. Then God blessed me by telling me unmistakably that He created her, whether the extra chromosome was there or not, and that to Him she was perfectly formed for His purpose and glory. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths. Of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body” (Psalm 139:14-16a, NIV’84).
If the idea of “People First Language” or doing away with words like “normal” are new concepts to you, don’t feel bad. They were to me just a few years ago. But once you become aware of the importance of labels and how they affect our beliefs about people, it can radically shift what you say, as well as what you believe. Labels don’t define us even when people use them. The people who use them don’t typically mean any ill will. But, subtly, they do affect how we view one another, what we expect of one another, and how we interact with one another. This is not God’s intention for us. We are all His creation, and we all have the potential to glorify His name. In His kingdom, we are all “normal”—whatever that is.
If you would like to read more about “People First Language” this week, please check out Kathie Snow’s article or at least scroll to the bottom of it for a great list of examples. You can find it at: