I've been reading this book, I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice, by Elizabeth Bonker and Virginia Breen. I was trepidatious approaching this book because, frankly, it's about special needs and I don't read many books about special needs. I do plenty of research but I don't read many personal accounts. See I've got this really good tough front going on, but inside I can get kind of gooey. And special needs is one of my trigger points. It can make me frustrated and angry and very determined, or occassionally, really unexpectedly emotional. Much of this is not because I have a son with special needs, but because I have a special needs brother. Sometimes there are events that trigger early memory flashbacks and their emotions. It's like getting hijacked. For example, once a friend of mine in college had a seizure on campus and I was calm through the event, knew what to do, put my jacket around him, waited for the paramedics, etc. Then when I walked away later I completely broke down. Sobbing in front of strangers, snot running down my face broke down, and unable to get out the words, "My brother used to have seizures."
So I guess what I'm saying is I don't read that many special needs books, I don't watch that many movies, because they scare me. I'm scared of getting emotionally hijacked. I already live it, you know?
That big long aside being said, when I heard about this book I wanted to check it out despite my fearful gooey innards. The book is co-written by Elizabeth and her mother, Virginia. Elizabeth is (currently) 13-years-old and cannot speak, but she is highly intelligent and learned to communicate through a letterboard and eventually, typing. Then she began composing poetry. This, of course, caught my interest! The book is a collection of Elizabeth's poetry and comments, along with essays by her mother about their journey with autism.
I've been really enjoying it. Virginia talks about the emotional aspects of raising two children with autism but she is also straigthforward about therapies and treatments. She's obviously a very proactive, solutions-based person. In my experience these type of people are more optimistic, and less defeatist in all aspects of life. She owns her own venture fund and I particularly enjoyed when she related how certain business practices can also relate to managing a special needs diagnosis. I worked in high-tech for a long time, including four start-ups, and I could understand the mind-set she describes. In business, as with special needs kids, you have to be relentless and very dedicated to step-by-step processes but you also have to be flexible and creative as hell, and occasionally you have to make some leaps of faith. Speaking of faith, she also talks about its place in her and Elizabeth's life, and how it is Elizabeth's own perspective that has affected her most profoundly.
Going back to Elizabeth, I was really interested to read her poetry. I started writing poetry young and I am always excited when I hear of someone writing at a young age. That kind of love of words seems to be innate so most who have it do start writing early, but I can't say we live in a society that always nutures it. Her poetry reads a lot like the poetry I was writing at those ages. Granted, Elizabeth definitely addresses her own struggles with autism, especially people's reactions and her frustrations, and her emotion really carries through. But she also writes poems about world peace and faith and the beauty of nature in the way that most thoughtful, mature girls her age write about these topics. It is both touching and comforting and, for me, I think that is where Elizabeth most strongly proves her point that yes, she IS an aware, regular-in-all-the-ways-that-count 13-year-old girl. Even though she is trapped is autismland, Elizabeth has found a way to soar above it.
Although, our special need situations are extremely different I still really liked the book and I really liked who it was about. Virginia and Elizabeth are people I'd like to meet. I felt like the book was very hopeful, and relatable, and informative, and I think it could be equally helpful for people who are interested in autism but have never experienced it.
And you know what? It didn't make me break down. – wg