Book Review : A Different Kind of Perfect-Writings by Parents on Raising a Child with Special Needs

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Compelling Stories, Told in First-person
A Different Kind of Perfect-Writings by Parents on Raising a Child with Special Needs (2006) is filled with compelling true stories penned by fathers and mothers.

Through these stories from different countries, editors Cindy Dowling and Bernadette Thomas, address popular media’s tendency to “sugarcoat the truth of raising a special-needs child.” (Preface, xiv)

Parents are often “painted as selfless martyrs, quasi-tragic figures who accept their fate stoically” while the child is portrayed as “virtuous victim, politely waiting to be saved by more able-bodied rescuers.” (xiii)

In truth, parents of children of special needs are “ordinary people, women and men who have found themselves with a child and a life not necessarily of their choosing, but who continue to do the best they can with what they have.” (xiii)

As such, you will read about the parents’ agony, anxiety and apprehension in this compilation of stories. Nothing can get more real. Some reach resolution; some do not.

It is authenticity that gives this book ability to inspire.

A Continually Life-altering Experience
The stories are grouped under the categories:

  • Grief
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
  • Empowerment
  • Marriage
  • Family and Friends
  • Love and Joy
  • Spirituality
  • Laughter


Psychologist Neil Nicoll anchors each category with an introduction, providing pertinent knowledge to better equip parents and professionals alike.

For example, in regards to grief, Neil explains that it can “flow from the loss of dreams and ideas, hopes and expectations…It is in this sense that grief is commonly associated with the birth of a child with disability or the later discovery that a child has a disabling condition.” (p3)

Neil writes with great empathy: “Remember that while we grieve alone, we heal with one another. Grief is an isolating emotion. So, it is important that you remember those who are there to share your burden.”

The editors “hope that by highlighting the various emotional responses of parents, the degree to which having a special-needs child is a continually life-altering experience will be clear to readers.” (xv)

Perfection is a Myth, Security a Superstition
In Difficult Journeys, Michelle Markle shares that her daughter, Kiley’s multiple disabilities plunged her into a “world of chaos.” (p65)

Instead of enjoying my beautiful baby girl…I felt intense anger, dread and sadness…At times I have felt as though my heart and my head are disjointed. (p69)

In Everything and Nothing at All, Cindy answers the question: “What does it mean to have an autistic child?”

It means watching the beautiful, perfect baby you gave birth…quietly slip away…

…It means unexpected joy at the smallest of life’s mercies: a crooked smile, a shirt buttoned…

…It means learning that perfection is a myth…

In a similar vein, Helen Keller’s poem, Let Us Have Faith begins with:

Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature, nor do the children
of men as a whole experience it. (vi)

The poem distills Cindy’s “myriad emotions about raising a disabled child.” And, reminds her “of the comfort that can be found in the words of others who have share similar experiences…” (xi)

May you find comfort and clarity in reading A Different Kind of Perfect.

A Different Kind of Perfect-Writings by Parents on Raising a Child with Special Needs (2006) edited by Bernadette Thomas and Cindy Dowling, with chapter introductions by Neil Nicoll, is available in Singapore’s Public Libraries. (Call number: English 306.874087 LES -[FAM]

About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.


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