Friday, July 4, 2008

The Elephant in the Playroom

When my oldest son Evan was about three, he was zipping around the nursery at a fair pace when an older woman said, "Is he hyperactive?" I didn't think about it much at the time: I just said, "No, he just takes a few minutes to settle down, then he's fine." Evan would cruise a new place for a while, then settle down and (usually) pay attention.
All three of my sons were like that: they seemed to need a bit to survey their surroundings, and they also needed a warning before changes ensued, be they moving to a new room or leaving for an outing.
A friend had a child who was like my boys, only more extreme. He reacted to nearly any change with tantrums. He had a hard time handling social situations. Sometimes it seemed that he wanted nothing more to be left to himself in a corner.
He and his family were nearly chased from the homeschooling group by other parents who had decided that the boy's parents were 'too easy on him', and that he would corrupt their own, more perfect children.
My friend's child was belatedly diagnosed with mild autism. All the difficult behaviors that his mom had been blamed for were due to neurological problems that she and her husband had no real control over.
I was reminded of all this by a book that came my way recently, The Elephant in the Playroom, by Denise Brody. This book deals with the joys and trials of bringing up 'special needs' kids from personal experience. It is full of stories and anecdotes written by parents of kids who are not 'neurotypical'. It's not about finding the right doctor, choosing the best curriculum or making sure of the diagnosis: it's about realizing that we're all in this together, even those of us whose kids don't have any of the challenges in the book.
The Elephant in the Playroom will give moral support to parents who are neck-deep in trials, but it will also explain the difficulties of these trials to people who only see a bit from the outside. The stories explain the frustration, the sleeplessness, the chaos, the anger, while reveling in the love, care, and joy. It might even give parents of 'normal' kids a few clues to their behavior, as it did when I saw shades of my own boys in some of the children with mildly Asperger's/sensory integration disorder. Neurological makeup is, after all, a continuum.
Maybe, just maybe, reading this book will help parents not judge each other (or themselves) so harshly, since we may not know exactly what the other person is dealing with.
Denise Brody
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press (April 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594630356
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594630354
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