Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review (#8 of 2014) I Am in Here by Elizabeth Bonker and Virginia Breen

I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice is an interesting book basically co-written by a mother (Breen) and her autistic daughter (Bonker).

The daughter (Elizabeth) cannot speak but learned to communicate externally via a letter board, and now uses a robot to remotely attend high school classes (according to the Facebook page). She writes poetry, and it was through her poetry that her mother and therapists were able to learn how she was feeling and what she was passionate about.

Bonker's autism is very extreme on the scale; she hits herself repeatedly for reasons she explains, cries, feels pain, doesn't sleep normally, etc. Her mother is a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, which allows her to afford and explore many treatments and therapies that may not have been available otherwise. They've tried just about everything and are actively praying for healing. By the end of the book, Elizabeth is starting to verbalize words. Her mother isn't anti-vaccine, but blames the battery of vaccinations Elizabeth got as an infant for the autism she says immediately followed.

The book is partly about the mom's struggles to parent a "low-functioning" autistic child and thinking about it spiritually. She also highlights the can-do people who have inspired her. It is labeled as a "Christian" book, but the mom draws on sources ranging from Richard Foster to Tibetan Buddhism, which she studied as a college student in Tibet. As such, the spiritual thinking gets a little muddy-- I wouldn't pick the book up for that. (Aside: One child who sees ghosts from a nextdoor cemetery that others can't see is mentioned in the book. It leads to a  hypothesis is that autistic kids may be more sensitive to the spiritual world and warfare than neurotypicals. Elizabeth considers herself more sensitive to the emotional suffering of others.)

The book is a great reminder that people you see as "low-functioning" have abilities that you don't have-- Temple Grandin is mentioned repeatedly in the book and has befriended the family. They are people that God loves and has a purpose for. Elizabeth believes part of her purpose is to bring attention to world peace.

I found it somewhat frustrating.  Why does Elizabeth still throw tantrums or have other issues in public and communicating with her mother when she's clearly thinking deeply on subjects and is able to elucidate them clearly through her writing in this book? A lot of apparent contradictions, which the mother illustrates well. (The father and family situation are never mentioned, by the way.)

I give it 3 stars out of 5. Worth adding to your "autism" shelf and to appreciate the ways God uses people with issues we wish they didn't have. One personal question this book raised for me is what sights/sounds/smells are my son sensitive to that I don't know about? What can he hear that I can't?

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