Typical and Not "Normal"

The Preferred Name for Children Without Disabilities

Disabled student with friends
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"Typical," or "Typically Developing" is the most appropriate way to describe children who are not receiving special education services. "Normal" is frankly offensive since it implies that a special education child is "abnormal." It also implies that there is a single norm for children. Instead, it is preferred to refer to children without disabilities as "typical" because they have the behavior, intellectual ability and functional skills we would "typically" see in children of their age.

How Mental Disability Used to be Defined

At one time, the only measure of whether a child was disabled was how he or she performed on a measure of Intelligence, known as an "IQ Test." Describing the intellectual disability of a child was defined by the number of IQ points below the mean of 100 a child would fall. 20 points was "mildly retarded," 40 Points was "severely retarded." Now, a child is to be considered disabled if her or she fails to respond to intervention, or RTI. Instead of performance on an intelligence test, the child's disability is defined by his or her difficulty with grade appropriate academic material.

How to Define "Typical"

A "Typical" child would perform within a standard deviation of the mean of all children's performance. In other words, the distance on either side of the mean that represents the largest part of the "curve" of the population.

We also can benchmark the social behavior of "typical" children as well. The ability to talk in complete sentences, the ability to initiation and maintain conversational exchange are behaviors, behaviors for which speech language pathologists have created norms. Oppositional defiant behavior can also be compared to the behavior expected of a child of the same age without disruptive or aggressive behavior.

Finally, there are functional skills which children "typically" acquire at certain ages, such as dressing themselves, feeding themselves and typing their own shoes. These can also be bench marked for typical children. At what age, does a child child tie his or her shoes? At what age does a child typically cut his or her own food, using both hemispheres.

"Typical" is especially appropriate when comparing a typically developing child with a child on the autism spectrum. Children with autism spectrum disorders have a great many language, social, physical and cognitive deficits. In many cases they are related to developmental delays that children with autism experience. It is often in contrast to "typically developing children" that we can best describe the needs of special education children.

These students are sometimes referred to as "Regular Education Students" or "General Education Students."

Example of How to Use the Word 

Ms. Johnson looks for as many opportunities as possible for her students with severe cognitive challenges to engage their typical peers. Typical children encouraged the children with disabilities while at the same time modeling age appropriate behavior.