When Patricia Konjoian’s daughter Jennifer was about eight years old, her behavior at times was alarming. Routine situations at home with her parents and two siblings would tee Jennifer off into outbursts.
After trips to doctors and prescriptions to various mediations, Jennifer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Today, she is a 17-year-old high school senior and plans to attend college next year.
But living in the pressure cooker environment of a northern suburb of Boston where, similar to communities in Westchester, a premium is placed on achievement and conformity, it was difficult for Konjoian and other parents with special needs children to openly acknowledge that their son or daughter may be imperfect.
Five years ago, Konjoian and her sister, Gina Gallagher, who has a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, wrote “Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid,” a book that shares tips and anecdotes with how parents can better cope with their child’s condition. It can also help even if they are simply average.
Konjoian said rather than sweeping their stories under the rug or being intimidated by other parents who openly laud their children’s achievements, she and her sister wanted to empower families who may feel alone and overwhelmed.
“It’s okay to talk about your kids,” Konjoian said of the message she and her sister try to bring to parents. “If you’re open and talking about your kid’s disabilities it makes it easier on all of us.”
On Wednesday night, Konjoian and Gallagher will be at the Bedford Road School in Pleasantville as the featured speakers in a program for parents of special needs children. The evening starts with a networking session at 6:30 p.m. followed by the presentation at 7 p.m. It is sponsored by Pleasantville SEPTA.
Since shortly after their book appeared in 2006, the sisters have been in increasingly frequent demand for speaking engagements. At first, they spoke mainly in the Boston area but Konjoian said communities around the country have recognized the value of their light-hearted but common sense approach. A key factor is that in their book and in their presentations they make sure to interject plenty of humor.
“We found that for the first time, people are opening up about a relative’s issue with a learning disability,” Konjoian said. “It’s not all gloom and doom.”
SEPTA, which has included the sisters’ book in its Parenting Collection at the Mount Pleasant Public Library, reached out to the authors. Special Events Coordinator Jennifer Landau said the observations that Konjoian and her sister make are invaluable to many families.
“By sharing their hard-won wisdom with great humor and compassion, Patty and Gina will show parents how to advocate for their children with special needs while embracing the differences that make each child unique,” Landau said. “Those who attend will come away feeling enlightened, empowered and deeply connected to a larger community of parents dedicated to their imperfect children.”
Last year Konjoian and Gallagher updated their work by coming out with “Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children.”
Konjoian said that she and her sister don’t pretend to be medical experts but share their experiences as parents who have come through a difficult time but have emerged intact.
Their presentation will be at Bedford Road School’s Little Theatre, located at 289 Bedford Road in Pleasantville.
The event is $5 for SEPTA members and $8 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at The Village Bookstore, located at 10 Washington Ave., in Pleasantville.
For more information, visit www.pvillesepta.com.