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Interview with Stanley D. Klein Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist & Author

Stanley D. Klein, PhD

November 15, 2004

Topic: "What Adults with Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew - Reflections from a Different Journey"
Beck: Good Morning Dr. Klein. It's very nice to spend time with you.

Klein: Hi Dr. Beck, the pleasure is mine. Thanks for the invitation.

Beck: I was so impressed with your book, even the accolades from Judy Woodruff at CNN, Senator Bob Dole, and others....I think you found a niche!

Klein: Thank you, the feedback we received has been very gratifying.

Beck: When did you begin working with people with disabilities?

Klein: Exactly 50 years ago, in 1954, I was a college kid who needed a summer job. I got a job at a camp for kids with cerebral palsy in Rockland County, New York. As counselors we assisted the camp's PT, OT and SLP in the morning and then did swimming and sports in the afternoon, just like any camp. I worked at that camp for four summers; it was a pivotal point in my life. I got very interested in what the consulting psychologist that visited the camp did. I went on to get my doctorate in clinical psychology. And, I have worked in the field ever since.

Beck: How did you come up with the idea to write about adults with disabilities?

Klein: Over the years, I've had the opportunity to get to know many adults with disabilities. I realized that parents of children with disabilities usually lack successful adult role models with disabilities to show their kids. In talking about this issue, John Kemp and I decided to offer some role models in a book. Typically, the only adults with disabilities that parents may know about are the ones reported in the media who are actually superstars--they accomplish things many able-bodied people would never attempt. So, John and I collected hundreds of essays from successful adults with disabilities who are relatively ordinary adults. Then, for the book, we selected forty essays from people with a wide range of disabilities.

Beck: I agree about the superstars--that's a great point. When I think of people like Christopher Reeve, I am so impressed with him, his compassion, strength and fortitude, and when I read his autobiography, I was engrossed and entertained. But, I think your point is, Christopher Reeve would have been a star in any venue, because he is so unique, inspired and determined. So perhaps we need knowledge of more common people with disabilities, people that don't headline on Broadway or star in major motion pictures?

Klein: Right. Moms, dads and kids, need to know that "ordinary" people with disabilities can lead successful adult lives. To create the book, we asked adults with disabilities to write a short essay on what they wish someone had told their parents. We asked for short essays because of the success of a similar format in You Will Dream New Dreams: Inspiring Personal Stories by Parents of Children with Disabilities (Kensington, 2001), a book I co-edited a few years ago. The essays in Reflections are all less than 1500 words, and they can be read one at a time as "stand alone" essays.

Beck: Let me give you a few of the essay titles and notes, and let's get your comments on them if that's OK? I loved the essay titled "The Virtues of Ballpark Normalcy" in which the author addressed being "in the ballpark" of normal and that life may be a little better because of a heightened perception that exists on the circumference of the mainstream. She also writes, "Excessive praise for doing something normal is not a spur to further achievement. Instead, it just makes a person feel like a freak." In other words, don't overdo praise for your children. Lots of very keen observations and horse sense.

Klein: That essay was by Lisa Blumberg, one of the few essay writers who have I known for a long time. Lisa is an attorney, a Harvard Law graduate. She happens to have cerebral palsy. In her essay, she addresses many issues relevant to parents and professionals. She says that "what is good for children without disabilities good for children with disabilities" and "...the way your child can reach his or her potential may have nothing to do with minimizing his disability. An hour of blowing bubbles may do more to help your child become a happy, adjusted adult than an hour of stretching." This is certainly a message that we therapists need to consider.

Beck: Mark Enston wrote an opening note in his essay titled "Take me As I Am!" that could've been written by Mark Twain. He said, "Parents! You cannot live with them; you cannot live without them...Children with disabilities need to feel cool and need to be accepted by peers. All parents are embarrassing and old-fashioned to a growing youth..."

Klein: Yes, Mark has some very important comments on acceptance. Mark is a blind and lives in Australia. He also wrote "We ask that we be accepted as we are and then look further—to discover our real differences."

Beck: What about "The Autism Bomb?" I loved his final statement "It is the job of all of us to increase public awareness of the potential of all people of all abilities." He painted a vivid picture with his note, "Children with autism are born with a set of scrambled sensory receivers. Some senses are turned up too high whereas others are turned down too low."

Klein: Stephen Shore is the author of that essay, one of three essays in the book by people on the autism spectrum. Stephen didn't speak until he was four years old, and he is now completing his doctorate in special education at Boston University. The Autism Asperger's Publishing Company published Stephen's autobiography, Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome in 2003. He too offers many interesting insights in his essay. He describes that as a child, in an effort to make him act normal, his mother "would try to get me to imitate her. That didn't work. She then imitated me. I suddenly became aware of her existence. Once she became part of my environment, we began to communicate."

Beck: One essay that was almost painful to read was the one by Taryn Hook. She talks about having obsessive compulsive disorder and severe chronic panic disorder.

Klein: Taryn is now an attorney as well as an advocate for mental health issues. Her essay addresses very powerful and compelling issues about recognizing the mental health needs of children.

Beck: The book offers thoughtful ideas from people who have disabilities, on issues relating to growing up with all kinds of disabilities--how to better understand, and how to proceed.

Klein: The book is not just for parents of children with disabilities. It's also for professionals and grad students. It's a glimpse into the thoughts, wishes, desires and goals of people with disabilities. Readers have told us they have gained a great deal from reading the essays.

Beck: And what about your co-editor?

Klein: John Kemp is an attorney and nationally known advocate in Washington, DC. John was born without arms and legs.
When I first met John over thirty years ago, he was already an impressive guy. His dad raised John and his two sisters by himself after John's mom died. John quotes his dad in the book on the topic of inclusion—his dad was way ahead of his time. His dad's "successful argument was not how much inclusion would benefit me; rather, it was how—as a result of my participation as the only child with a disability—all children in the school would learn that there are children with disabilities who belong in our communities, with their families, and in local schools." That was his dad's message about 45 years ago!

Beck: How can people learn more about the book or about you?

Klein: At, people can see the table of contents, read excerpts and reviews, and buy the book! They can also learn more about John Kemp and me.

Beck: There are so many wonderful thoughts and quotes that live on in my mind long after putting the book down. I want to thank you for assembling this fine work, and thanks for your time today.

Klein: My pleasure Dr. Beck. I hope that our book is helpful for all of your readers.

- - - - - -

What Adults with Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew -
Reflections from a Different Journey. ISBN 0-07-142269-2
Edited By Stanley D. Klein and John D. Kemp
Foreward by Marlee Matlin
Published by McGraw-Hill, New York, NY

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Stanley D. Klein, PhD

Clinical Psychologist & Author

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