Book Review: The Elephant in the Playroom

Cover image courtesy of Lisa Lori Communications

The Bottom Line

By Denise Brodey; 235 pages. Subtitle: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About the Extraordinary Highs and Heartbreaking Lows of Raising Kids With Special Needs

That's quite a subtitle there, isn't it? Intimate! Honest! Extraordinary! Heartbreaking! Brodey, who compiled and annotated these essays by fellow parents of children with special needs, is a woman's magazine editor by trade, and a lot of these essays feel like the sort of thing you'd read in a magazine and feel good about.

Reading a whole bunch in a row diminishes the impact, though; pick and choose at will.


  • Essays deal with a range of disabilities
  • Gathering essays into topic-related chapters helps you find what you need
  • All writing is well-conceived, written, and edited
  • Thought-provoking treatment of issues many parents face
  • Anything that empowers special-needs parents to own their experience is welcome


  • The whole package is maybe a little too neat and polished
  • Reading too many tales in a row can dull their impact
  • The chapter on "To Medicate or Not to Medicate" has no "nots"
  • Special-needs parenting's not all about highs and heartbreaks
  • You may wish you could spend more time with some of these story-tellers than a short essay's-worth


  • Section 1: Think Different
  • Section 2: Taking Care of You
  • Section 3: Roller Coaster
  • Section 4: Schools That Work, Schools That Don't
  • Section 5: To Medicate or Not to Medicate
  • Section 6: Going Public
  • Section 7: Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

Book Review: The Elephant in the Playroom

One thing I've learned from participating in online special-needs support groups over the years is that there's nothing as powerful as reading words from another parent that perfectly encapsulate your feelings and experiences.

To know that you are not alone is an encouraging, even life-saving feeling.

On the other hand, there's a real risk in making one's own personal and unique experience symbolic of the experience of All Parents. There will always be someone who feels you're whitewashing the situation and the reality is so much worse, and there will always be someone who feels you're talking gloom and doom at the expense of hope and happiness. Those experience the Heartbreaking Lows may feel the people with the Extraordinary Highs are judging them, and vice versa.

The Elephant in the Playroom is a well-intentioned and well-crafted collection, and I have no doubt that many people will find it deeply meaningful and empowering. There's been a real effort to assemble different experiences, different disabilities, and different attitudes, which is both a strength and a weakness. Depending on your own unique experience and sensitivities, you may find the warm glow of one essay being chilled by the next one if it presses your buttons. Early in the book, Brodey suggests picking and choosing essays from different chapters depending on your mood and need, and I think that may be the way to go.

I'll admit that my personal buttons were pressed by the chapter "To Medicate or Not to Medicate," which was preceded by Brodey's explanation that there are no "not" essays because everybody who once felt anti-med had changed their mind, and she could find no alternate viewpoints.

I'd suggest she should have looked harder, or changed the title of the chapter. It's okay to have a point of view, but not to act like it's everybodys.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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