The University Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, in conjunction with Shore House of Long Branch, NJ, hosted New York Times bestseller, Andrew Solomon for a book reading and signing in the Wilson Hall Auditorium on Monday, Feb. 24.
Solomon’s book, “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children & the Search for Identity,” explores the lives of families that accommodate children with physical, mental and social disabilities and the obstacles these parents face with loving and accepting their children.
Solomon, a homosexual who has previously suffered from depression, explained that the book’s title is a play on the expression, “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Solomon said that the concept of his book came about while writing an article about deaf culture for The New York Times. He noticed similarities between the acceptance of identities within the deaf culture and the homosexual culture, which lead him to realize that the experience of each subculture is universal.
“I saw the parallels between the deaf experience and the gay experience, and I suddenly thought, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a gay thing and a deaf thing … I’ll bet there are others,'” said Solomon.
“Far From the Tree: Parents, Children & the Search for Identity” narrates the accounts of families dealing with the issues of dwarfism, Down Syndrome, Autism, and several other disabilities. Solomon’s theme for the book was to help parents cope with their child’s disability, and to develop the acceptance of the parents and the children themselves.
In discussing the importance of self , family and societal, Solomon said, “They all feed one another and each of them strengthens the other. You’re more able to achieve self acceptance if you have family and social acceptance; they’re all intertwined.”
Shore House is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving people with mental illnesses opportunities to achieve their full potential. According to http://www.shorehousenj.org, Shore House provides opportunities for its members to obtain employment in mainstream businesses and provides various other support resources.
Christian Smithson, a member of Shore House suffering from bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), said, “[Shore House] is a place to interact with people just like me. The sense of family helps lift our spirits …. We learn that we are way more than our diagnosis.”
Pauline Nicholls, a consultant for The Shore House, reached out to Solomon to host the reading and signing to create awareness about an issue that the Shore House deals with everyday. “We need to speak up and speak out and I think [Solomon] does that…. The more we start a dialogue, the more we can inform change and reach a point where society can accept those with mental illnesses.”
Solomon said that many parents of disabled children grow closer to their children despite their flaws and learn to celebrate the conditions that they once feared. In his most extreme example, Solomon supported his claim of acceptance by discussing his relationship with the parents of Dylan Klebold, a perpetrator of the Columbine High School shootings.
“We still think that if kids commit crimes it’s because their parents are bad parents…. But in the case of the Klebolds … they’re really lovely people and the actions of their son came from something profoundly broken within [him]. It’s not the parents’ faults,” said Solomon.
Solomon explained that in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, said that she was able to still love her son because “If you love someone, you love both the good and bad in them.”
Smithson said, “I loved this event because it touched upon a lot more than I thought it would. The author talked about mental illnesses and the stigma that comes along with it and I thought that it was a beautiful thing.”
Kaeili Puopolo, a freshman, said, “[Solomon] was very well spoken and was also entertaining. Surprisingly, the only thing I disliked was that it wasn’t long enough.”
“His perspective on what is commonly referred to as a disability was also interesting to me,” Puoplo continued. “He referred to deafness, Autism, homosexuality, and many other disorders as identities and encouraged acceptance to all differences people are faced with.”
Franca Mancini, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said, “We co-hosted this event to reach out and support organizations in the community. [The University] is a great venue to help get information like this out to the community.”
“Partnering with Shore House to host an event like this is such an important initiative too because they can offer help and assistance that goes far beyond what we can do on campus,” said Mancini.