Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children by Rita Eichenstein, PhD
Not What I Expected is written for parents who have children with special needs to help them understand the stages of grief they are likely to experience. An introduction to the grieving process is followed by chapters on each of the five stages. Readers have examples of each stage and action steps for where they are in their journey.
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About the author:
Rita Eichenstein is a neuropsychologist with a private practice in Los Angeles. She specializes in assessing children and working with their families to ensure the best outcomes. Dr. Eichenstein says in her book that she began to research the experience of parents as she watched how families responded after recieving difficult diagnoses. You can learn more about her here.
What we love:
Not What I Expected is an excellent resource for parents who are struggling with their child’s diagnosis. Dr. Eichenstien normalizes the grief that many parents experience when dealing with their child’s diagnosis and explains how that may play out in caring for, or seeking treatment for, their kid. Generally, she does so in a non-judgmental fashion. For example, she shows how a parent in denial may not be ready to accept all the pieces of their child’s diagnosis or how one who is in anger may fight harder for more services, even those that may not be effective. Understanding this helps parents understand where they are on their personal journey and stop comparing themselves to their idea of a perfect special-needs parent. It also helps therapists reach them where they are to serve them or their children better.
What we didn’t:
There were a few places in this book where the advice given made me cringe. For example, she suggested parents video their partner without their knowledge so that they can show them how they look when they are angry. I don’t see this as connecting behavior.
I am also much more comfortable with anger as an adaptive emotion than I think Dr. Eichenstein is. Also, there are several spaces where, in the examples she writes about, she seems to automatically side with schools or other systems that are designed to serve children with special needs. This may be alienating to parents who have not had the experience of professionals who work towards their child’s best interest.
I would recommend Not What I Expected to parents of children with special needs and to therapists who serve either them or their children. I think it is valuable for the clinician to understand where the parent is on their journey so that you can better serve the family as a whole. It can also be useful to normalize what the parent is experiencing.
Note: Examples of a wide range of diagnoses are used throughout the book so that it will appeal to more readers. However, parents of children with very severe disabilities may be turned off by the inclusion of labels like ADHD. Keep this in mind when you decide if this is the best recommendation for a client.
Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.