Non-verbal, Thirteen-year-old Autistic Girl ‘Finds Her Voice’!
I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice
by Elizabeth M. Bonker & Virginia G. Breen
Revell/$16.99 Cloth/ISBN: 978-0-8007-2071-1/October 15, 2011
Elizabeth Bonker is profoundly affected by autism and can’t speak, yet she illuminates the inner world of autism through poems that she types one finger at a time. I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice by Elizabeth M. Bonker and her mother, Virginia G. Breen is the story of Elizabeth’s courage, determination, and optimism, and the relentless love of a mom who knew her daughter was “in there.”
Over many years, Elizabeth has learned to type independently on a letter board and computer. She began to write poetry, and has since written more than 100 poems. This child, who had been diagnosed as mentally retarded, was at last able to reveal her gifted mind. In a poem entitled “Me” Elizabeth expresses her wish to be understood:
I sometimes fear
That people cannot understand
That I hear.
And I know
That they don’t believe I go
To every extreme
To try to express
My need to talk.
If only they could walk
In my shoes
They would share my news:
I am in here.
And trying to speak everyday
In some kind of way.
Though she cannot speak, Elizabeth Bonker writes poetry that shines a light on the hidden inner world of autism and the world around us. I Am in Here is the spiritual journey of a mother and daughter who refuse to give up hope, who celebrate their victories, and who keep moving forward despite the obstacles. Elizabeth’s poetry and her mother’s stirring storytelling combine in this inspirational book to proclaim that there is always a reason to take the next step–with hope.
“Elizabeth is my little flower, relentlessly breaking through autism with her poetry,” Virginia writes. “Like the flowers in the sidewalk cracks, she is a quiet miracle.”
One in every 100 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with autism. “Children with autism can’t speak for themselves. They want you to remember that they are in there and to keep trying to reach them,” Virginia writes. She never gave up trying to reach Elizabeth, and continues to seek her healing. This includes supervising medical, educational, behavioral, and spiritual approaches, visiting countless specialists, seeking out new treatments, and often, fighting school bureaucrats and medical “experts.” She writes of the “great battle” of autism, which also afflicts her son Charles, and how the family draws strength for the journey:
- Faith: Elizabeth’s poetry reveals a deep spiritual life, “contemplating God in a way that went beyond what she learned in Sunday School,” Virginia says. “The burden of autism has helped us both understand one of life’s great mysteries. The most tangible way we experience God is through the presence of the people God has placed in our lives.”
- Clinging to Hope: “Autism Moms must find a way to cling to hope with a tenacity that is stronger than autism’s grip on our children,” Virginia says. “My answer is finding the joy in the smallest of moments…a conscious choice to seek these small flowers of joy in the crannied wall.”
- Drawing Inspiration from ‘How’ People: ‘How’ people ask, ‘how can I move forward?’ rather than ‘why me?’ Elizabeth, with her overwhelming challenges, is the ultimate ‘How’ Person. The book also includes a gallery of the ‘How’ people whose inspiring stories are told in the book.
Thanks to the Internet, one of Elizabeth’s poems has become a mantra beyond autism, as people substitute their own struggles in place of autism. Written when Elizabeth was nine, this poem “is where we first saw into the soul of autism and how it traps a beautiful mind,” Virginia says:
The Things I Know for Sure
There is a God.
I am loved.
The sun will shine.
I will survive autism.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Elizabeth M. Bonker is a thirteen-year-old young lady with autism who cannot yet speak, but who writes deeply revealing poetry, which was featured on PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
Virginia G. Breen is the mother of three beautiful children, two of whom are profoundly affected by autism. Besides working to heal her children, Virginia is a venture capitalist investing in high-tech companies, and she sits on both corporate and nonprofit boards. Previously she studied computer science at Harvard, business at Columbia, and eastern philosophies in Singapore. She now studies relentlessly at the School of Autism. Visit IAminHereBook.com
“I Am in Here is at once heartbreaking and powerfully inspirational. Elizabeth and Virginia together find their way down the mystifying corridors of autism and arrive in a place of communication through poignant and memorable poetry. It is a lesson in life, love, determination, and awe.”–Tom Brokaw, NBC News
“Elizabeth’s beautiful poetry clearly shows that some individuals with autism who appear to be low-functioning have real abilities. Elizabeth’s first words when she was able to type were ‘Agony. I need to talk.'”–Temple Grandin, New York Times bestselling author
“Simply astonishing! Together mother and daughter walk through the bewildering maze of autism and end up producing a heartrending and wonder-filled story. Get this book.”–Richard J. Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and Streams of Living Water
“Many people underestimate the capacity for learning and growing in children with autism. Elizabeth was determined to communicate and express what she held deep inside. And Virginia never lost hope that her daughter would one day find her voice.”–Suzanne Wright, cofounder of Autism Speaks
“Elizabeth is a true inspiration, and her beautiful poetry allows her to share her message so people notice her for who she is and not what people expect her to be.”–Jenny McCarthy, president of Generation Rescue and New York Times bestselling author
“A brilliant look inside a brilliant child whose illuminating story will entertain and inform all of us who seek to grasp the dimensions of human intelligence and perseverance.”–Sidney M. Baker, MD, founder of Autism360.org and Defeat Autism Now!
“A brilliant reminder that through our work we have the privilege of seeing some of the most profound examples of courage, determination, and the depth of human potential.”–Dr. Theodosia Paclawskyj, PhD, BCBA, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Kennedy Krieger Institute and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Though I do not usually care for poetry, I found Elizabeth’s poetry exhilarating, delightful and inspiring. I Am In Here displays her innocence, her love of nature, her concern for hurting people, and her depths of understanding for her age. Truly astounding! Bright beyond her years and very sensitive!
The deep love relationship between mother and daughter is beautifully presented. Her mother is truly Elizabeth’s advocate. Though the struggles have been extremely difficult and repetitious, their book is upbeat, refreshing, encouraging and delightful. She also chronicles her son Charles’ affliction with autism, which is not as severe as Elizabeth. The ‘How Person’ versus the ‘Why Person’ is very distinctly different in importance, which she delineates.
The mother chronicles the different issues pertaining to Elizabeth’s life from birth to age thirteen, transcribes her daughter’s words from her letter board, a not-so-simple process, and designates her daughter’s words in bold. You will be totally amazed at the depth of insight this young lady has!
Virginia considers herself a relentless parent, ever pursuing new methods, medicines and spiritual prayer to help her daughter. Sometimes I got confused as to the faith of the mother, as she dabbles into Eastern religions, while at the same time quoting the Bible. The daughter seems to trust the Lord.
This is a great book for parents of autistic children as well as those who know someone with an autistic child. It is eye-opening–showing you how tenacious the mother’s goals were for helping her daughter and getting a peek inside the hidden inner world of the young lady and how she thinks and interacts. I Am In Here contains helpful information for all those living with an autistic child/young adult, along with the sources she pursued.
This book was provided by Donna Hauler, Publicity Assistant of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review. No monetary compensation was exchanged.