Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid!

Ordinary moms (and imperfect sisters) on raising children with disabilities

Psychology FROM Dummies

What "pseudo intellectuals" can teach you from the trenches

A few weeks ago, when I posted a blog criticizing rapper 50 Cent ("Hey 50 Cent! Rap on This") for insulting those with autism, I received criticism of my own. No worries; it comes with the territory of being imperfect. Plus, it’s wonderful to know folks are actually listening to what I have to say, since that rarely happens at home.

Amidst the usual comments that I’m a "bad parent" (blah, blah, my 13-year-old tells me that every time I discipline her) and that I'm illiterate (grammatical mistake that I still have nightmares about) was this comment:

“PT has long ago been discredited as an opinion blog where unprofessional credentialed pseudo-intellectuals engage in over emotional melodramatic rants and crusades against their own inane issues.”

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I don’t usually make it a practice to write blogs from comments, but I thought this one warranted a deeper discussion. I will admit that I'm definitely not an intellectual, nor do I play one on TV, though I do watch TV. In fact, when I read this comment, I couldn’t help but draw on the words of my intellectual TV hero, Mr. Alex Trebek: “I’m sorry, Mr. Commenter, but that response is incorrect.”

In my humble opinion, the professional intellectuals who disregard the knowledge and emotions of everyday folks who live in the trenches are putting their clients in Jeopardy. It's amazing what information, understanding, and strategies can be gleaned "on the street," a fact that many successful therapists recognize. How can one effectively diagnose, treat, and advise without fully understanding the emotional aspects of the patients involved?

I can't help but wonder: Are readers of this website, including the parents, therapists, caregivers, and educators who come here thirsting for information and answers, only supposed to learn from those with the impressive pedigrees? And further, is the advice and insights the credentialed contributors provide deemed to be accurate due to their credentials alone?

To those who think that, I can only draw on the experience of my other TV hero, Mr. Ed: “Get off your high horse.”

Sadly, many special needs parents have wasted significant time and money on people who have the credentials, but lack the knowledge and insights to treat them and their children. I was guilty of this as well until I had an encounter with a highly regarded psychologist. At the time I came to him, my daughter was newly diagnosed with a form of autism. I was deeply depressed and in the midst of that mourning process that affects many parents of newly diagnosed children—the loss of the perfect child.

The therapist I chose had impressive credentials—he was a doctor and a professor (Boy could they have used him on Gilligan's Island). Clearly, a man with his education and experience would be able to help me out of the abyss I was heading into.

When I arrived for my first appointment, the doctor said, “Sorry if I seem a little tired; I just got back from the White House. I take photographs as a hobby and the President liked one I did of the American Flag."

“Yeah, well that’s great," I said, after listening to him drone on for nearly ten minutes. "But I have this daughter…”

“I have a daughter, too,” he blurted out. “She’s amazing.”

“That’s great, but…”

“In fact, she graduated at the top of her class. On Parent’s Night they told me she was one of the brightest students to graduate.”

“Terrific. You must be proud,” I said, wondering what new, innovative form of therapy he was using. Surely, it was only a matter of time till he turned things back to me.

“She’s on a full scholarship you know.”

Before I knew it, my time was up. We barely spoke about my daughter or my feelings. When I returned home, I recounted this twisted tale to my husband who always sees the good in people.

“Well, Gene, maybe he was caught up in the excitement of the White House. I think you should give him another chance.”

Like a fool, I took his advice and went back for my next appointment. I broke right into my issues: “I’m worried about my daughter’s academic future and whether she will ever go to college...”

“Speaking of college,” he interrupted. “I teach at the local state college. During the graduation ceremony, a student gave a speech about the one person that’s influenced her life the most. I was shocked when she said it was me.”

“Wow,” I said, silently scanning the room for Alan Funt. Clearly, I was a victim of a Candid Camera hoax.

“Do you want to see the video? I have it on tape.”

“Sure why not?” I responded, willing to see how far he would take this.

As I watched him fumble to search for the video, I experienced a moment of remarkable clarity. “Hey, my life’s not so bad. He’s a psychologist and he’s crazy as a loon.”

While that story certainly provided comedic material, it highlights my point—credentials can’t buy you common sense or understanding. Clearly, this man had neither.

On our Facebook community, which consists of nearly 12,000 pseudo and actual intellectuals, folks have recounted stories of other highly credentialed professionals leading them down the wrong path.

Here are just a few:

• "A pediatrician once said it was impossible for my kid to be on the spectrum because he didn't obsess over light posts and shower heads."

•" A psychologist told me that my child couldn't have Asperger’s syndrome because he talked a lot."

• "My child's doctor told me he would never talk or show love and everyday he hugs me and says, ‘I love you mommy."

• “A physical therapist said my child wouldn't walk for more than six months. She was surprised when, after a week’s vacation, he walked across the waiting room and into her therapy room.”

So how can psychologists, social workers, and counselors be most effective? Start by listening to folks in the trenches before you discount what we have to say. Maybe even come join  our Facebook community.  You might  be surprised what we "pseudos" can teach you. (Some of us even watched The Bob Newhart Show.)

Have you had a good or bad experience with a therapist/psychologist? Tell me, how did that make you feel?

Gina Gallagher is an imperfect award-winning freelance copywriter, speaker and co-author of Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children. more...

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