Magazine Helps Parents Deal with Exceptional Kids: Offers Advice on Special Needs of Disabled Children

By Wetzstein, Cheryl | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 16, 1996 | Go to article overview

Magazine Helps Parents Deal with Exceptional Kids: Offers Advice on Special Needs of Disabled Children


Wetzstein, Cheryl, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Julie Hettel's two favorite parenting magazines used to be Parents and Growing Child.

But when the Illinois mother's second child Melinda was born with Down syndrome in 1984, those magazines became very difficult to read.

"Every article reminded me of another milestone Melinda had not yet accomplished," she recalls.

Like tens of thousands of other parents, Mrs. Hettel has found solace and courage in Exceptional Parent, a monthly magazine designed for parents and professionals who care for disabled children and young adults.

"I devoured each issue as soon as it arrived and slowly the magazine worked its therapy on my soul," Mrs. Hettel wrote in the magazine's 25th anniversary issue this June.

The magazine became even more valuable when the Hettels' second daughter, Mary, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

All the "horrible emotions" returned, said Mrs. Hettel, who also has two sons. "I thought for a while that maybe I was the only woman in the world who had two children with [two different] special needs."

But those feelings subsided quicker. As a regular reader of Exceptional Parent, she'd already learned about cerebral palsy, a muscle disorder caused by injury to the brain.

"I didn't feel so alone," she says.

Helping families like the Hettels has been the primary mission of Exceptional Parent since its inception in 1971.

Today, the Oradell, N.J., magazine boasts $2.5 million in gross revenue, a subscriber base of 75,000 and an estimated readership of 300,000. Its monthly issues have more than 100 colorful pages filled with articles, medical updates, parents' questions, resource groups and advertising. Its new horizons include the Internet, foreign markets and distribution through insurance companies.

Like many of the issues it covers, however, Exceptional Parent faced nearly insurmountable challenges and almost died twice.

"We were crazy. Clinically crazy," jokes editor in chief Stanley D. Klein , one of three psychologists who, without any publishing experience, launched the magazine in Massachusetts in 1971.

The trio borrowed $75,000 to start and garnered modest success with their first issues. But the money ran out by early 1973. "We didn't know how to afford to go bankrupt," says Mr. Klein, adding that even their lawyer, the soon-to-be-famous Michael Dukakis, went unpaid.

Then came a mention in Ann Landers' syndicated column, which led to more than 10,000 inquiries about the magazine and a brief publishing deal, Mr. Klein says in a telephone interview from his offices in Brookline, Mass.

The magazine faced several more financial emergencies - and was bailed out at least once more by Mrs. Landers - before stabilizing in the early 1980s.

While the magazine has undergone wholesale change, its original purpose has not.

"We try to publish stories that are stripped of all complicated jargon, and are edited and written so folks like you and I can understand them . . . and get some benefit from it," explains Joseph M. Valenzano Jr., Exceptional Parent's president and publisher.

The magazine also takes the view that the child comes first, the disability second, adds Mr. Valenzano, who has five sons, one of whom has a neurological impairment.

Parents such as Betty Pendler praised the magazine for providing an honest forum to talk about the "very scary emotions" that accompany the realization that one's child will never be "normal. …

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