What to read when you're parenting special needs kids
Writers learn to "write what you know." And for a lot of writers, what they know is parenting, so they write about it. And sometimes they create stories that mimic real life while still providing the rest of us with a brief escape.
Time is a precious commodity when you're a parent. But most parents quickly discover that if you don't make a little bit of time for the things you love most, you lose a little bit of yourself. And that lost bit can make it really hard to find your way back to the Land of Good and Patient Parenting.
Most moms also learn that although it is important to make time for what matters, there's definitely no time to waste. So if you want to make time for reading, you may not have time to wade through all the current best-seller lists or wander the stacks at your local library. Never fear -- that's what we're here for. To sift through the slush piles and find the gems that you can curl up with and enjoy.
Here's a look at two novels written about the experience of parenting a child with special needs.
Eye Contact, by Cammie McGovernEye Contact is a murder mystery, but that's hardly what it's really about. It's the story of Cara, single mother to Adam, who has autism. Adam's friend Amelia, who carries the difficult non-diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder -- not otherwise specified), is murdered and Adam is found clinging to her body.
It's clear to everyone that Adam knows something, but have you ever tried to pry information from a child with autism? Cara has to balance the community (and law enforcement's) need for information with her son's need for routine and his quiet, determined way.
McGovern, whose own 9-year-old son has autism, writes sensitively about Cara's parenting experience. The descriptions will ring true to anyone who has lived this reality, and even those who have never known special needs up close will find the writing gripping:
"When he was eight months old, ... for the first time she thought: Wait, is this normal? When he was a year, she understood, No it isn't....
"She accepted it in stages. First she told herself: He'll be a late talker. Gradually, she began to see: He'll be different in other ways, too."
McGovern's murder mystery is intriguing on its own, but with the addition of the autism complication, this book becomes compelling.
Inside Out Girl, by Tish CohenIn Inside Out Girl, Tish Cohen paints a striking portrait of Olivia Bean, a little girl with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). NLD is a neurologic condition that prevents a person from understanding anything that isn't verbal -- such as a tone indicating sarcasm, or a look that says, "Back off."
Olivia, reared solely by her father after the death of her mother, is forced to navigate the treacherous hallways of middle school without understanding the subtle nuances that other children rely on to protect themselves from danger. Her father struggles on her behalf even as he tries to make sense of his own life.
Despite a few clunky passages when Olivia's father describes the technicalities of his daughter's disabilities and a somewhat overdramatic ending, the story uses Olivia's differences as an important part of the plot. Parents of children with NLD will recognize many moments, and all parents can learn something from watching Olivia and her father interact.
The Sesame Street PhenomenonIt's important to support novels with characters with special needs. Just as Sesame Street thrust Down Syndrome into the spotlight and helped forge acceptance of children with the disorder, these books can help create understanding. The more special needs are represented in fiction and other mainstream work, the more acceptance becomes a natural part of life.