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Special Children, Challenged Parents: The Struggles and Rewards of Raising a Child With a Disability, Robert A. Naseef, Ph.D., Birch Lane Press; Carol Publishing Group, Secaucus, NJ

Reviewer: Jed Yalof, PsyD

I would like to begin this review by first asking your brief indulgences as I describe the process of writing the review itself. I believe it says something about the value of Robert A. Naseef's book.

As a characteroligcally punctual person with no known history of writer's block, I found myself growing increasingly anxious about meeting the editor's deadline for submission of this review. I had been given the book well in advance of the deadline by a friendly review editor and the opportunity to decline the assignment. The book seemed easy enough to read, not lengthy, and clinically relevant. I noticed, however, that in the process of reading the taking notes, something was wrong. I would read a few pages, take some notes, then put the book away, then go back to it several days later, and so forth, until I finally realized that I was dawdling away precious moments and was feeling more and more under the sway of my own internal gun!

Throughout this process, I kept beginning each of my reading sessions by first going back tot he book's prologue -- the epilogue is equally touching -- in which the author had written a very poignant letter to his son. I wondered why I as so caught up in this part of the book, but guessed that I had something to do with my personal conundrum about meeting the editor's deadline. Being a father and having a son, I was deeply moved by the emotion, authenticity, and love conveyed in that letter. I would read the letter, react to it, and then become somewhat stupefied in my efforts to read the text.

I decided, however, that I needed to do something about this obstacle. I read the letter on more time, then sat with my reactions, did some self-analysis, tried to put my thoughts and feelings in perspective, and was then about to move ahead with the review and writing process. It is difficult to read Naseef's book without becoming absorbed by the resonance of the content in relation to the meaning of being a father or mother, a spouse, a son or daughter, a friend, a grandparent, and a psychologist.

Robert A. Naseef, PhD, is a well-published and experienced psychologist who has written an informative, compassionate, and easily readable book. Th book includes a prologue, ten chapters, epilogue presented in personal journal format, full references, and both national and on-line resources as appendices.

Naseef begins with a chronicle of his journey as a parent to Tariq, including his feelings of disempowerment and grief. His decision to share his experience in the opening chapter develops s tone of openness that is present throughout the book. Naseef addresses natural and normal processes of a family's growing awareness of a child's disability, including the range of emotions aroused by this awareness.. He highlights the arduous process of working through the grief experience. Information on stages of grief are of particular help tot he reader who comes to his book without much psychological understanding of the grief sequence. Naseef emphasizes the importance of relating to the special needs of the child and relinquishing many of the idealized dreams associated with parenting. After a presentation on unmet parental expectations, he offers some very simple, but useful strategies for relating to their child. Several chapters address the unique needs of family members, including the mourning process for fathers, the strain on the marital dyad and family, sibling relationships, and intergenerational grief. Naseef highlights the search for emotional support from the grandparents, who struggle in their own way with being grandparents to a disabled grandchild and parents to a child who is attempting to cope with his or her own child's disability. He concludes the book with insights on parent reactions tot he inevitability of a conclusive diagnosis, being a parent with professional training in the mental health field who has a disabled child, and interacting with the school system around the child's disability.

Throughout the book, Naseef draws heavily on his personal experience as the parent of an autistic boy. In writing about his experiences within the role of father, spouse, son, sibling, and clinician, Naseef easily weaves a first-person grasp of the trials and tribulation of parenting with anecdotes from his clinical practice in a manner that generates understanding and empathy. Woven into the book's fabric is the constant reminder that no individual, regardless of specialized training, is immune to the human frailty, tragedy, and heartache that grips a family who have a child that is, and will always be, decidedly different from the idea. Yet, Naseef is able to convey the personal journey of parenting a severely disabled child in a way that gives the reader the belief that within tragedy, there lies reason.

Special Children, Challenged Parents is able to straddle that fine-line between popular psychology and academic scholarship. This book will assuage the often isolating, shameful, and despairing feelings that can quickly cloud the view of parents upon realization of their child's need for special care. Yet the book is also useful for academic course work, clinical supervision, rehabilitation facilities, parent groups, and educators.

One need not be a parent of a child with special needs in order to be enriched by Naseef's account. Whether this type of book could have been written by someone whose child does not require unique types of attention is hard to say. Clearly Naseef uses his own parenting experience to advantage in his writing and his professional work.

Jeff McKee
Saturday, April 25, 1998