In this issue:
A Special Education: One Family’s Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities is a brave book by Dana Buchman, in which the author looks back at herself with amazing candor.
And Consider This
Gilead is Marilynne Robinson's first novel since Housekeeping and is well worth the wait. There is something in Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules to interest just about anyone. The standard of the writing is satisfyingly high, with a preponderance of authors well-known to those of us who admire the short story
A SPECIAL EDUCATION:
One Family’s Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities
by Dana Buchman with Charlotte Farber, © 2006
Published by De Capo Life Long (member of Perseus Books Group); Hardcover; 194 pp
If you know of anyone, child or adult, who struggles with learning differences (also called “learning disabilities” or simply “LD”) you need to read this book.
Dana Buchman, a fashion designer whose label is part of the Liz Claiborne empire, has written an honest, inspiring, important account of the experience and challenges of rearing an LD child. Her deep love for both her daughters - Charlotte, who had learning problems, and Annie, a high-achiever like her parents - is evident in every line of this book. Ms. Buchman covers the whole confusing experience of rearing a child who doesn’t fit the norm, or meet the milestones the experts have set for child development.
Buchman is a self-confessed Type A, carefully controlled individual whose persona was termed “perky” by all who knew her. She and her husband are a true power couple who went into parenthood believing that with a bit of organization, they could “have it all” – home, family, and fabulous careers. They quickly discovered that having good help at home was vital to maintaining any of the foregoing, and Buchman gives full marks to Monica, the woman who has made their busy lives possible, even to this day.
Charlotte ’s parents were no different from other parents who have noticed that their child isn’t developing exactly as described in the baby books, but who don’t really discuss their fears with each other. When little sister, Annie, was born two years later, her parents were amazed at the speed with which she reached the expected milestones. As the girls grew up, it became obvious that where Annie learned quickly and with ease, Charlotte struggled and blundered and struggled some more. (Comparisons may be odious, but they are a fact of life; who among us hasn’t compared one child to another, even though we know better?)
Buchman leads us through the stages common to parents of LD children everywhere, from the first suspicions, to denial, to desperation, to trying to fix the problem, to (finally) understanding, acceptance, advocacy, and appreciation of the child’s strengths. This is a brave book, in which the author looks back at herself with amazing candor.
Beyond the descriptions of endless testing and careful searching for schools that will help Charlotte, Buchman leads us through some of the difficulties of balancing the needs of her two daughters at each stage of their development. I was particularly touched by her description of young Annie’s love for her sister, complicated as it was by her understanding that Charlotte often needed more attention than she, Annie, received. Being the sibling of an LD child isn’t easy, even if one understands that being the LD child isn’t easy, either.
The book ends with Charlotte’s triumphant graduation from high school, as recipient of her school’s Winston Churchill Award, which is given to the outstanding student. As the book went to press, Charlotte was about to start her freshman year in college.
There is a nice Afterword at the end of the book, written by Charlotte herself, in which she speaks movingly of this country’s need for better services for children who learn differently. As a parent and former teacher, I can only say Amen to that.