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by Debra Ginsberg
HarperPerennial, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 25th 2003

Raising Blaze

Raising Blaze is a rich memoir by Debra Ginsberg chronicling the first thirteen years of her son Blaze's life.  During his birth, which was overdue, the umbilical chord became tightly wrapped around his neck, twice.  Maybe this was the reason that Blaze was different from other children.  Whatever the reason, it was clear that he had difficulty fitting in with other children at school right from the start.  His psychological development was a little unusual, being gifted in some areas, such as identifying different musical styles, but he did not begin speaking until he was three, and he was always extremely sensitive to loud noises.  Ginsberg thought it best that Blaze did not attend pre-school and he had no experience being around other children.  So she was not surprised that he was not very cooperative when he first started kindergarten.  Ginsberg was astonished, however, when after his first day his teacher suggested that he be put into a special-education class and asked her to attend a meeting to construct an individualized education program (IEP).  This meeting proved to be one of countless such meetings in which she butted heads with psychologists, teachers and administrators.   Nevertheless, she agreed to Blaze joining the special-ed program, and she also agreed for Blaze to undergo psychological testing.  She soon found that he did not test well, because he mostly refused to perform the tests tasks.  Ginsberg was sure that his true abilities were not being accurately measured.  She also soon found that different psychologists arrived at very different assessments of Blaze's skills and problems.  One said he was of above average intelligence, while another proposed a label of mental retardation.  He had his first neuropsychological evaluation when he was five years old.  From early on, professionals were recommending that Blaze take medication to help him gain more from his time in the classroom and to stop him from being so disruptive.  Ginsberg was very reluctant to put him on psychotropic drugs when it wasn't even clear what his diagnosis was.  His behavior improved on its own, but still the school recommended that Blaze retake kindergarten because he was not yet ready for first grade, which they explained was very demanding. 

The struggle to understand the school's thinking about Blaze and get him the best education available continued for years.  Ginsberg eventually gave up a promising career in the publishing industry in order to be able work as a parent volunteer in Blaze's class, so she could give him the help he needed.  This arrangement worked well for him, but it didn't solve all his problems, and by the time he moved up to middle school, he was getting absolutely nothing from his education.  At that point, Ginsberg took him out of school and started home schooling him, where he started doing much better.  That is where the book ends, with Blaze's future uncertain.  His most recent categorization by the middle school IEP team is "multiple disabilities."  Along the way, we see Ginsberg's perception of various teachers and suggestions change.  She gets to know some professionals who she greatly admires for their dedication to their jobs, while there are others who she views as entirely unsympathetic and unprofessional.  Ginsberg becomes far more open-minded about special-education, but she retains great suspicion for the medical approach to Blaze's problems.

Raising Blaze is a powerful book, especially because it is unusual.  There have been a number of memoirs telling the stories of families with children diagnosed with fairly well-defined disabilities such as Down syndrome or autism, but what is distinctive about Blaze is that he does not fit existing diagnostic categories well, and so he is given catch-all diagnoses such as pervasive developmental delay.  It is hard enough getting appropriate treatment and education when a child's condition is well-understood, and Ginsberg's memoir shows what a struggle it is when the bureaucratic structure of special-education does not fit a child's needs.  Ginsberg herself comes across as a loving and articulate parent ready to admit her own faults and intent on fighting for her son.  This book should be required reading for special education teachers and administrators.  Child psychologists and parents of exceptional children who do not fit well into existing categories should also find it thought-provoking and helpful. 


Link: Author website


© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.