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Op-Ed: "Every Child is Special" - and So is this Book

Written in Hebrew by a well-known Israeli therapist, it is now available in English. At first glance, it seems aimed at children, but it packs a message for both youngsters and the adults in their lives.
Published: Monday, June 02, 2014 9:06 AM


Childhood, while we like to look back at it nostalgically as a time of playgrounds, toys and birthday parties, is not so easy for the little people going through it.  During infancy, they are dependent on adults for their every need; throughout childhood, their choices are very limited, they have siblings to contend with, security issues; as they grow older, add homework, exams, possibly spending a year with a teacher who doesn't like them and dealing with bullying classmates, the pressure of trying to do well in sports – and of constantly being told what to do.

(All this is, of course, describes the situation in a happy home with two parents who care about one another and want the best for their offspring. For dysfunctional situations, they are still writing the book).

Now think of all the children who, in addition to the above, suffer because they also have special needs. All that is needed is for them to be off to the side of the normal curve that graphs one or more of the parameters that catalogue us. A child is considered fine if he measures on that coveted cap-like part of the curve - and how could we expect any other rating? After all, we measure everything today and paste on a label.

However, human beings are so complex and every intellectual activity has myriad steps, any or many of which can be problematic to a specific child.

One of the good things about labeling every difficulty is that there are people who care and know what to do. Dr. Zippora Mack has dedicated her career to helping special children function on a level matching their capabilities. She is a lecturer, experienced therapist and analyst in the field of learning disabilities in several colleges and has a private clinic for counseling and analysis. She makes her home in Jerusalem, where she is known for her dedication to the children, her understanding, empathy and encouragement as much as for her original ideas and methods.

Dr. Mack has written a book on her life's mission. "Every Child is Special", written originally in Hebrew and snapped up by parents in Israel, has been translated into English by Daphna Lewy and distributed by Contento de Semrik, Tel Aviv . It is available on Amazon.

It is a book for special children to read, and also for those around them, in which the "speakers" are children who describe their problems in simple, direct language. The book was written in this manner in order to help the children help themselves, to demonstrate to them that someone can go inside their heads and feel what they feel, that they can describe their difficulties using the language of the book and help those around them learn to listen better.

One child might have coordination problems, one attention deficit problems, one might find difficulty in processing oral information, another in reading comprehension. One might be too bright, with his frustration at thinking too fast difficult to control, another has trouble expressing his thoughts – and there are many other possibilities, many of them preventing a bright and curious child from succeeding because he is so busy feeling inadequate –  being laughed at by other children, treated as inadequate by school personnel. And never mind all the professional know-how in private situations, most of the time it is a live teacher standing opposite him while he is disrupting the class activities and taking up too much time.

"l need acceptance and love", one child says; and each needs a creative – and let's face it, time consuming-  effort to help him function up to par and get along with his surroundings, but who will provide it?

Without being conscious of the variants of being special, will it be harassed teachers with too many students in a class and tired out parents who work long hours, a system that expects everyone to be the same?  This book can help, especially in an educational system that thinks a four year old has problems if he doesn't sit still during story hour (and maybe he has heard the story before, or just doesn't feel like a story right now. Remember when four-year-olds were still at home with Mom and/or Grandma?).

Take maths – in this book, one child just can't keep the numbers where they belong, especially zeros, another needs triple the time to solve a problem and yet a third has the answer instantly, but can't explain how he got to it. Each is a special child, but, says Dr. Mack, so are all the other children.

And this book lets us hear those children. Written in first person, or first persons, the "special children" (the wonderful illustrations, by Michal Glick, are of adorable children that you feel like hugging like the mother on the cover is doing)  describe the way they feel at being special.

Each special needs child who reads the book can find himself on one of the pages and perhaps learn to express how he feels to parents, teachers, analysts.

Each adult reading the book can find the children he knows in it and perhaps, just perhaps, stop being upset with them for not living up to normal curve expectations.

WIsely read, it can be used to raise the level of empathetic understanding of non-special needs children for their fellow-students.

You know, just maybe some of these children will change the world, in whatever field they choose because of our encouragement. And, more important, maybe they will feel good about themselves.  

Some of the most poignant lines "said" by the children in the book are

  • Do they know better than me what my difficulties are?

  • It might be helpful if they tried to remember that they are not perfect as well and let me be.

  • To be a special needs child is to be alone - before therapists, before parent, before friends, before analysts, before therapists, who only want to prove how smart they are...

  • The teacher complains I am not taking part. So what? I love listening…

and

  • I love teachers who care about me

Grandparents get across the board good marks in this book, as they should.

Read this book, and give it to your children – all of them –  to read. You will understand more, special children will hear what they need to hear, and non-special children will learn to understand and empathize with the child sitting near them in class who may become their best friend.