JOHNSTOWN - Children with special needs can live a fulfilling life and are just as good as other parents' "perfect" children, a pair of authors said Thursday.
"Wherever you go, people want to brag about how perfect their kids are," said Gina Gallagher, who, with her sister Patricia Konjoian, wrote the book, "Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid." "Well, we wanted to talk about our kids and what they have overcome ... If it's not bad enough that we have to listen to them brag, we have to read their bragging bumper stickers, too."
Gallagher and Konjoian spoke at the Holiday Inn during a conference titled "Perfectly Imperfect." They talked about their experiences raising children with special needs.
(The Leader-Herald/John Borgolini)
Patty Konjoian introduces herself Thursday morning at the Holiday Inn for the “Perfectly Imperfect” presentation. She and her sister Gina Gallagher discussed their experiences raising children with special needs.
The event, organized by the Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery Counties, was promoted as a day of wellness, acceptance, humor and hope for parents and caregivers of children with special needs. The event included the authors' presentation, workshops and entertainment.
Gallagher said she started to notice her now-17-year-old daughter Katie had some different tendencies when she was a little girl playing with her toys.
"She would line up her toys in very intricate patterns. I thought she was a little quirky. That was it," Gallagher said.
Katie's teachers began telling Gallagher the child was struggling in school with work that other children were understanding.
Gallagher then found a note in Katie's backpack one day requesting permission to run tests on Katie.
That's when doctors told her that her daughter had Aspergers disorder - an autism spectrum disorder.
"I swear I was crushed. I didn't hear anything else they said," Gallagher said. "[My husband and I] couldn't even say it, let alone swallow what it meant."
Konjoian had a different experience when her now-19-year-old daughter Jennifer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 8.
Konjoian said she began noticing her daughter would be extremely happy at times followed by moods of extreme sadness.
"I just kind of accepted in an almost quiet denial of things," Konjoian said. "I just kept doing whatever they said. It was a totally different reaction."
Since these diagnoses, both parents have said they're happy with their experiences with their daughters, and they wouldn't change a thing about them.
The sisters said their daughters have made them better people and have since started an "imperfection movement" that focuses on celebrating imperfections.
Gallagher said her daughter has made her a better person.
Gallagher said when she was younger and playing sports, she would accomplish a goal and immediately go to the next one. She wouldn't stop to appreciate what she had accomplished. Her daughter's perseverance has made her appreciate accomplishments more.
"Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking about society's ridiculous standards and started to see things through her eyes," Gallagher said. "If we were to cure her Asperger's, it would take away everything I love about her."