Jason and I were particularly excited to invite Dr. Rita Eichenstein on the podcast because her book has been cited many times by our guests -- including Jason! -- as one of the most meaningful ones they'd read as a caregiver and one that they regularly recommended to other caregivers. She wrote Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children to help parents learn to cope with "the roller coaster of feelings parents encounter parenting a child who is different from what 'they expected.'" Rita is a noted psychologist, pediatric neuropsychologist and author, renowned in the field of child development. She also has a private practice in Los Angeles and has served both atypical children of all ages and their parents for over 25 years.
Rita states that her life's work has been to "create a diagnostic and assessment environment that is warm, supportive and accurate." She is passionate about the understanding that the child is not a single unit but comes with a "village of parents and families." The atypical child, a term coined by Dr. Rita, encompasses children "who do not conform to the usual expectations, whether because of a learning disorder, behavioral or psychological issues, medical problems or other conditions, as well as quirky kids, whose symptoms and behaviors defy official diagnostic categories but who still face challenges." She was stunned to discover early in her career that there were literally no studies done on this village, no "shoulders" upon which to stand as she began to research parenthood, particularly that of "atypical" children.
Jason, Rita and I had a deep and complex conversation about the five stages of grief, so often talked about in caregiving circles. Rita emphasized how these stages are not linear, and both Jason and I shared our own stories of cycling through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and active acceptance. Rita says that "going through these five stages is actually the way that the brain self regulates itself. So allowing the brain to move through the stages allows for integration." We also talked about marriage, about blaming -- not just others (the husband, the wife, the grandparents, the doctors, the pharmacists, etc.) but oneself. Rita had a lot of advice for caregivers, and some of it was so practical that I wish I'd been able to speak with her twenty years ago!
We hope you enjoy the show -- and afterward, you can find out more about Dr. Rita at her website, DrRitaEichenstein.com and her blog, Positively Atypical.
LIGHTNING ROUND (modified somewhat!)
If you had a billboard on the side of the highway that every parent with an atypical child could see, what would you put on it?
Dr. Rita: SLOW DOWN...BREATHE...YOU CAN DO THIS!
What's a favorite book that you recommend to caregivers?
Dr. Rita: Hope Will Find You by Naomi Levy
Who most inspires you -- person or group -- in your work?
Dr. Rita: The parents that I work with inspire me with their grace -- they are my inspiration.