WILLIAMSBURG — Turning tragedy to triumph: Brenda Heckert is doing exactly that through the creation of There Is No Normal.
Heckert’s son Grayson struggled as a child and ended up diagnosed with autism. But that doesn’t stop him from approaching every day with a smile and a desire to help others. Employed at a local grocery store, Brenda remains inspired by Grayson. After all, he’s the starting point for There Is No Normal.
“When he was born in 1997, I had no clue what it would be like to raise a premie. Once he got into school, I started to realize that he had different behavior. I was shocked at how different people treated myself and Grayson. I thought ‘why should we be treated different just because he is special needs?'” Heckert explains. “Everywhere we had Grayson tested, they all said the same thing: he’s complicated. I was just in shock as time went on that people were moving away from us and I heard more and more ‘do you think he’ll have a normal life?’ It never stopped and I kept saying to myself ‘there is no normal’.”
Grayson, the surviving triplet after she suffered two miscarriages, is the focus of Brenda’s world. Everything she does with There Is No Normal is to inspire him.
There Is No Normal is a website that aims to bring awareness to caregivers, but in a new way. Instead of advice on the art of caregiving, the website helps the caregiver care for themselves.
“I originally started to help mothers who have to deal with special needs. What we have to do to navigate the world for a special needs child is just overwhelming. It’s all guesswork and you are looking for help down every avenue. I hope people stop looking for normal because you are making yourself miserable. Look for progress, not perfection,” Heckert said.
Being a caregiver for Grayson isn’t the only job she holds. She has also been a caregiver for her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s and her sister who suffered from ALS. Both her mother and sister died in 2011. While dealing with their deaths, Heckert also went through a divorce and found herself as Grayson’s sole care provider.
“Being a caregiver is your full-time job. Wether you are caring for an elderly parent or a special needs child, your world becomes so small. You can find resources of course, but everyone’s child is so individual that so many of the resources don’t fit the situation. You’ll hit a lot of walls as you are navigating this,” Heckert said.
Thanks to the work of There Is No Normal, Heckert is hopeful that she can be a resource for any and all questions relating to caregiving. For her, if she can help just on person, she has done her job.
“It’s essential for people around you to know what is going on. I was never afraid to tell people about Grayson being on the autism spectrum. When people know what is going on, they will have more empathy or sympathy for you. They will understand your situation better and give you some grace,” Heckert said.
Heckert reminds caregivers that life should not be taken so seriously. She encourages caregivers to care for themselves when needed, even if that means having a 10 minute coffee break. Through her website and the endless phone calls she receives, she happily will talk to anyone and if she can help just one person navigate the caregiving world, she’s done her job.
“I love when I get people that have questions that I can provide an answer for. It’s such an awesome feeling to know that I can help one person. I love doing this and it brings it all full circle for me,” Heckert said.
To learn more about Heckert and her mission with There is No Normal, visit thereisnonormal.co.