Thursday, January 8, 2009

Elephant in the Playroom by Denise Brodey

The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About Raising Kids with Special Needs The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About Raising Kids with Special Needs 

by Denise Brodey
published February 26th 2008 by Plume
Paperback, 256 pages 
isbn 0452289084   (isbn13: 9780452289086)

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hated reviews of this book, a collection of essays I think everyone should read. 

Elephant came about because Denise Brodey, editor of Fitness mag, wanted to hear the stories of other parents of special needs children when her son was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder and childhood depression in 2003.  Using her professional background, Brodey asked these parents to share their stories – the ups and downs, joys and pains, laughter and tears – in short essays.  These are the experience of parents and siblings whose lives are affected by special needs children.

I took immense comfort in these stories even as I seethed at the reviewers.  I went through with a pen (not even a pencil), starring and underlining and drawing smiley faces and exclamation points .  Everyone spoke the truth of my existence, even if the diagnoses of our children differed.  “[T:]he whiplash of being a special-needs mom seemed permanent,” writes Brodey (p 83). 

A mother of a son with autism echoes my fatigue: “I could never, ever, let my guard down, and by the end of the day, the strain of always trying to stay one step ahead of his overactive mind exhausted me physically and mentally.” (p 64)

The contributors have experiences that range from simply tiring and/or training, to heartbreaking.  There’s one mother who recounts what a teacher friend overheard in the teachers lounge, when another teacher came in and complained she “had that damn autistic kid.”  Or the woman who had two boys, both in need of medication for their ADHD, and kept a blog of her personal challenges.  A national group singled out her experience as an example of their cause – mandatory sterilization.

An experience universal to the parents of special needs children is the dearth of services – therapy, school, social.  Still, one glaring absence in this collection was the experience of low-income families.  The families in this book had the resources to push and advocate for their children with government agencies, schools, etc.  Families in which there is only one parent, or in which both parents have to work, have no recourse available.

All of the reviewers of this book praised it, recommending it to any parent of a special-needs child.  And, well, sure, community is great.  But how many people, who are childless, or who have neurotypical and physiotypical kids, are going to crack this book?  In the end, that seems to me to be the point.   So many of us have endured the comments from strangers about how to raise our “disobedient kids,” or the teachers who ignore our children because “they don’t get it anyway.”  We know these people are not cruel, only ignorant.  Why isn’t this book recommended to them?

Feed it to the media, shout it to the masses: READ THIS BOOK.  It’s quick, it’s well-written, it’s humorous and hopeful.  Everyone needs its message, because any time someone in cruelty or thoughtlessness belittles someone with special needs, the fabric of humanity frays, and we are all the shabbier for it.


  1. Thanks for the great review. I just put this book on hold. Here's something for being so great:

  2. I am the audience you wanted to read this book, kind of--my kids have not been given labels. But my sister's child is "special needs", so maybe I don't count. But I second your recommendation of it, regardless!

  3. Thanks for this. I'm going to add this book to my growing list. Another really good book along similar lines is That Went Well… Adventures in Caring for My Sister by Terrell Dougan which recounts her experiences in caring for her sister with special needs. It's another one that should be mandatory reading for all those who give out advice to parents with special needs children.

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