HINGHAM — Parents both laughed hysterically and wiped away tears during a recent talk at the South Shore Country Club titled “Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid.” Sponsored by the Hingham Special Education Parent Advisory Council, the event drew more than 100 parents and educators of special needs children.
Two sisters, Gina Gallagher and Patty Konjoian, led the talk, centering around their book with the same title. They spoke from experience: Gallagher’s daughter has Asperger’s syndrome, and Konjoian’s daughter has bipolar disorder. The siblings have tackled their children’s conditions with humor and say they try to help other parents do the same as they struggle with the difficulties of raising a child with special needs.
But laughter wasn’t their initial reaction when their children were diagnosed — Gallagher’s daughter 10 years ago and Konjoian’s eight years ago — the sisters acknowledged.
“I was struggling,” said Gallagher, of Marlborough. “I was grieving the loss of the perfect child.”
But Konjoian, of Andover, added, “You have to find a way to laugh through anything.”
She told about when her daughter was having a difficult time. She said she called Children’s Hospital but was told the soonest her daughter could be seen was six weeks later. She said she was frustrated but resigned to waiting, but then her daughter told her of vivid dreams she was having about her grandmother, who had recently passed away. Konjoian spoke with her daughter’s therapist, who told her to call Children’s Hospital right away with information about the dreams.
The hospital saw her daughter immediately — it turned out she was having psychotic episodes. As terrifying as that may sound now, Konjoian joked, “Hey, it got me into Children’s sooner!”
The sisters said when they first wrote the book, which they self-published in 2006 and that has since been picked up by a publisher and reissued, they felt isolated, angry, and stigmatized. Now they find humor in many absurd situations that arise raising children with special needs.
Along with the book, the sisters sold bumper stickers. Instead of stickers saying the typical “My Kid was an Honor Student,” they offered one proclaiming, “My Kid WAS a student this month” and another , “My bipolar kid loves/hates me.”
“There is humor raising a child who isn’t perfect in a perfect world,” said Gallagher.
Many who turned out see it the same way.
“You have to laugh about it, or you’ll die,” said Colleen Ballerino. The Quincy mother has a son recently diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and said she found the sisters’ perspective uplifting.
Hingham mother Jody Nash, whose teenage daughter has cognitive delays, said she appreciated their “different approach to a serious topic.”
“It’s very honest and refreshing,” she said.
The sisters speak across the country and encourage parents to brag about their children at the talks and on the “Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid” Facebook page. Their Hingham audience howled with laughter when Gallagher related proud moments parents have shared, such as, “My autistic son lied for the first time!” and “My daughter picked her nose today — do you know the fine motor skills that you need for that?”
The sisters can also brag — Gallagher’s daughter was recently accepted to college, and Konjoian’s daughter is studying to be a psychiatric nurse at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Every parent has a right to be proud of their kid,” said Gallagher. “Every child has a gift.”