First, an important caveat. My wife and I are physicians. We don't bother with popular books with a medical emphasis because we know that stuff. So our reading is biased towards behavioral and legal topics.
We've read a lot over the years. You can click on this snapshot of our library to get a quick review of the books we've kept.
There are two items that stand out. The first is a book, the second a throw away newspaper article.
The most important is Greene, The Explosive Child. This is from my Amazon review:
If I had to choose the most important book I've ever read, the one that most influenced my life, the one book I could not afford to have missed, it would be this book.The other one is very short. Yes, a NYT article about using 'extinction' in animal training.
We read it about seven years ago. My marginalia sprawled from the pages to the back covers, replete with emphatic circles, arrows and double underlines...
...There are some quibbles I have. Time outs, for example, work well if they're used as calming interventions that last from seconds to a minute (even though we call them "punishments" since that's what our son prefers, they are only to allow him time to calm himself).
The fundamentals, are as sound as can be. I most appreciate the modesty I remember. Greenes is frank that not every child has a happy ending -- no matter the interventions. We're talking a serious struggle here...
... Even if you have a merely difficult child, or straightforward ADHD, or mere high IQ autism, or simple Asperger's, you should read this book.
If you have an explosive child, you must read this book...
I think of "extinction" when working with children as an advanced technique. It must be done in such a way that it does not induce anxiety, and the child has to be able to calm themselves when others withdraw. It doesn't work if the child will pursue aggressively, or react with destructive or dangerous behaviors.
It is, however, powerful.
Those are the top two. I also particularly remember Welcome To Alaska, one or more of Temple Grandin's books on life with high IQ autism, and Benjamin Pollis "Only a Mother Could Love Him" - an insider's guide to life as an explosive child with severe ADHD.
The rest of our reading is more routine. Any number of references on Personal Care Attendants or disability law will suffice.
Update 5/3/10: For the adolescent phase of special needs life, I like a book written about selling, sales, and persuasion: 3 Steps to Yes by Gene Bedell.