Monday, July 1, 2013

Professional Issues Class - Book Review

My last project for class (and for grad school!) is a book review.  The assignment:  To help you understand the impact of a disability on a family, each student will read a book pertaining to communication disorders and families.  We were charged with choosing a book from a great list of options.    After reviewing the list, I chose:

Not My Boy, written by former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, is really two books in one.  The first part is the personal story of how the Peete and his wife, actress Holly Robinson-Peete, came to grips with their son RJ’s autism.  The second part is written like an advice manual for parents of children with autism, with specific advice geared towards fathers. 

I could relate to a lot of what Peete shared in his book.   Stories of how hard it is to let go and allow his son to fail, when you really want to be there each time he stumbles.  Stories of minor events, such as oral reports in class or ordering a drink at the fast food counter, and how they become as big as Olympic gold medal moments when you are on the sidelines watching your special needs child accomplish them.    He shared their struggles to find the right educational setting for RJ as well as struggles with coming to grips with his expectations of how he would parent vs the reality of what his son needed.   Summed up in this quote:
In a way, it seemed like an abandonment of RJ to mentally remove that little football from his hands.  Yet I knew I would be building a legacy of frustration and conflict if I spent my energy trying to turn him into something he was not.  I needed to let him be himself.   That’s what it takes to be a great dad to the child you brought into this world: being the person who helps a child grow into the fullness of who he is.

After the personal account of how he was pulled from his denial and self-destructive behaviors (such as drinking) by an ultimatum from his wife, Peete shared the ways he became involved in his son's life and how he became a better man for it.
The part I liked most about this book was the second half, which offered advice on topics such as marriage, siblings, discipline, team sports, making friends, finances and reaching out for support.
Peete doesn't just cite high divorce rates among special needs families, he gives tangible ways to keep your marriage strong.    He doesn't just talk about how special needs siblings are sometimes given less attention by their parents, he comes right out and says that one of the best things you can do for your special needs child is to give him/her siblings!   I know the personal struggle of deciding to have more children when your hands and minds are already so full dealing with the special needs child you already have.  I agree with Peete, my son’s two sisters are the best social/peer group he could ever have.  They annoy him, they protect him, they include him, they exclude him, they love him, they brag about him and in the end they love him unconditionally, as we do. 
Ben and his 2 girl fan club
Additionally, Peete gives real world tips on helping your child make friends, getting him/her involved in team sports, and finding support from other parents, specifically dads.   He even included a section on finances.   Peete admits that they spent around $160,000 per year on RJ's therapies, alternative medical treatments and aides.  That is a number not fathomable to families that are not comprised of a former NFL player and an actress.   But he does offer some advice and stories of how families of less means have been able to advocate for their children. 
This book is chock full of practical, real-world advice, written in an easy to read, relatable manner.   Kudos to the Robinson-Peete family for sharing their struggles as well as their joys in this book.  Next, I want to purchase the book written by Holly Robinson-Peete and RJ's twin sister Ryan called My Brother Charlie for the sibling perspective.  

So as a parent, I enjoyed the book.  Would I recommend it to fellow professionals who will be working with special needs families?   I think so.  In my schooling experience, I have heard criticism from fellow professionals and students about how  parents are not doing X or how they should do Y.   I hear criticism about parents who delay diagnoses or refuse to use certain medications.  Sometimes I feel like a spy amidst these conversations, because not only am I the "professional" working with these families, but I am also one of those parents.   I think reading accounts like this, where otherwise educated, well supported families really struggle with the diagnoses and finding the best care for their child, can only give professionals an understanding what all families go through, especially those who are not as well off, supported and educated as some families are.  
Empathy and understanding are always a good thing!