April 23, 2024
The Beauty of Our Differences
By Erica Salerno-Sabastiani, PhD

Emily is a 7-year-old who loves to dance, draw, dress up, and pet furry animals. She eats, plays,
goes to school, and experiences joy and sadness just like the rest of us. But because Emily can
at times get lost in her own world, stress over changes in routine, and become overwhelmed
with her emotions, society calls her atypical.

A neurotypical person is defined as “an individual who thinks, perceives, and behaves in ways
that are considered the norm by the general population.” What makes something normal? Is it
just because it’s what everyone else is doing? Why is someone strange just because they do
things in a way we don’t understand? How boring and unimaginative life would be if we were
all the same.

Emily was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 3. Family members noticed
the signs, but I hadn’t. She was my first child and I thought she was wonderful. I didn’t know
what was typical and what was not. I was also in denial. Emily had already been diagnosed with
type 1 diabetes at 13 months old. I wasn't ready to face a diagnosis of yet another chronic

Emily’s therapy began during COVID lockdown. While others were learning new skills and how
to bake bread, I was helping her learn how to communicate and retrain her brain. While others
were getting physically fit, I was physically restraining my child to stop her from banging her
head against the floor during a meltdown.

Words escape me when I look at the sweet, funny, social girl Emily has blossomed into. I’m
beyond proud. She’s worked so hard to come so far, but it breaks my heart when I see her
struggle to keep her composure. Emily can still become upset by crowds and loud sounds, but
she can also sing a song in perfect pitch after hearing it only once. Emily may not be
neurotypical, but she is brave, resilient, creative, and driven. She weeps when she is moved by
music. Call that peculiar? Atypical? I call that beautiful.

Erica Salerno Headshot
Erica Salerno-Sabastiani, PhD
Erica is a senior medical writer at Jumo Health, proud momma of a type 1 diabetic, recently diagnosed type 1 diabetic, singer, loves to laugh and make people laugh.

Jumo Health develops age-appropriate, culturally relevant, and relatable educational resources for patients and caregivers. We have experience serving diverse populations, covering more than 160 health topics across 80+ countries in 120+ languages. Our various digital, video, and print offerings use highly visual elements and research-backed health literacy strategies to ensure that everyone can understand and act upon complex medical information. We do this through familiar mediums – from comic books and animation, to virtual reality experiences and authentic documentary-style patient stories – all customized based on audience. Jumo Health collaborates globally with more than 180 advocacy groups and community organizations to promote access and to ensure unique patient experiences are accurately represented.

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