Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review - the elephant in the playroom

I am just finishing my read of this heartwarming collection of stories compiled by Denise Brodey. I didn't know quite what to expect when I checked "the elephant in the playroom" out from our local library, but I have been thoroughly hooked in by all of the stories. The book is a compilation of stories written by parents of special needs children with a variety of physical, social, and emotional challenges. Some of the stories are simply cathartic - they let me open the floodgates of emotion (anger, grief, worry, frustration, awe) and set aside all of the logical business-like thinking that I find myself trapped in sometimes as I try to advocate for my daughter. It let me reconnect with my mom-ness and set aside the case manager hat. At the same time it is inspirational. One story ("My Friends Are Waiting for Me" by Rebecca Stern) describes the family's journey to find an excellent school program for their son, Caleb. They eventually placed him in a Reggio Emilia school founded by two women who are proponents of inclusion. It sounds like Caleb, who is diagnosed with autism, is thriving in this program. I can't help but wonder if it would be a good program for other children with similar needs. Some of the stories give hope, others seem like unending tales of despair and yet acceptance. All of them offer something that I can relate to. With the exception of a couple of special needs support groups that I've found, I rarely feel like I "fit in" with other "regular" moms. If they are chatting about their children and I mention that my daughter does something similar to their child it is as if the conversation takes a sudden chill. As if because she is atypical she can't do some things just like other kids. Reading this book made me feel as if I had found a new circle of friends. Granted I may never meet them in this lifetime, but perhaps there will be a special corner in heaven where we can all meet and greet.
I also think this book might help "regular" parents understand the world of their friends or family who are "special" parents. They might find some of it hard to believe, but they also might learn a thing or two about how to support their friends, or at least not to judge them.
I close with a quote from one mother who summed it all up quite nicely:
I read in a book once that having a child with special needs is like
getting on an airplane for a trip. You think you are going to Venice, but then
the stewardess tells you you have landed in Holland. Well, you can spend your
time crying for the gondolas, or you can get out and enjoy the windmills. It's
not quite what you had expected, but it is beautiful all the same.
So I call him my Dutch boy. To remember that windmills are as beautiful as
He fills my world with wonder and unbelievable joy.


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