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Book Review : A Benefit for Many, Not Only Parents of Disabled Children

February 11, 1986|ANN MORRISETT DAVIDON | Davidon is a New Haven-based writer and critic. and

One Miracle at a Time: How to Get Help for Your Disabled Child--From the Experience of Other Parents by Irving R. Dickman, with Sol Gordon Ph.D.(Simon & Schuster, New York: $16.95)

It occurred to me while reading this "special interest" book that there are literally millions of Americans to whom it is addressed and who could greatly benefit from it. These include not only the parents of disabled children--about 250,000 are born every year--but all the teachers, pediatricians, psychologists, relatives, friends and neighbors in touch with the many families whose children have physical or mental abnormalities. The author is the parent of a disabled child (the idea that all are "handicapped," he says, often comes from the social institutions that may treat or make them so). In seeking help, Dickman and his wife eventually found there were many resources, but information about them was not widely disseminated. He set out with Dr. Sol Gordon to collect such information into one source book, drawn mainly from questionnaires returned by more than 500 other parents of disabled children who had discovered or developed the resources, skills, support groups and knowledge to find and utilize the agencies, institutions and laws that could help them.

Spirit and Knowledge

Repeatedly Dickman found that it is determined parents, more than "experts," who have the spirit and knowledge that can be most supportive to other parents. At the same time, their selective use of specialists and specialized agencies (which are conveniently listed throughout the book) is also essential in getting both accurate diagnoses and all the skilled help--medical, psychological, legal and educational--that is available. And in pressing for more where these are inadequate.

Public Law 94-142, passed by Congress in 1975, was a turning point in recognizing rights of the disabled. Through this law disabled children began to be integrated into schools which were required to provide for their particular needs. The IEP--Individualized Education Program--was established to work out, with parents and educators, specific educational goals and timetables for each child. While these IEPs have sometimes been more theoretical than real, Dickman calls PL 94-142 the "Magna Carta of education for America's disabled children," describing in the words of affected parents the ways in which it has helped change their lives and the lives of their children.

High Achievers

Through the faith and sensitive determination of tens of thousands of such parents, children once considered "vegetables" and "unteachable" have become competent and in some cases high achievers. While it usually takes intelligent, resourceful--and often well-off--parents to accomplish such results, thus eliminating many parents whose low income and poor education tend to make them less assertive and knowledgeable about their rights and possibilities, parent groups and in some cases teachers or other concerned individuals have reached out to provide the needed information and support. But Dickman stresses that much more can be done by and for parents and their disabled children at all levels of society. With such help, small miracles are always possible.

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