“I am in here”, by Virginia Breen
Every parent looks forward to hearing their child’s first word. For Virginia Breen, that day never came. In contrast to her two other children—one autistic, the other not, daughter Elizabeth’s autism kept her locked in a silent world for the next few years. Not until the age of six was Elizabeth enabled to communicate through the medium of writing. Her first word, “Agony”, was a bittersweet indication of a highly intelligent mind.
Presenting her co-authored book “I am in here” in a talk this past Monday evening, Breen seeks to give a voice to the voiceless, to bring autistic children like Elizabeth, so often misunderstood, and so typically underestimated, to the attention of society. “I am here” is the story of Elizabeth’s evolution, from an uncommunicative child with the stigmatizing label of autism, to a young teenager who attends high school remotely, taking honor’s level classes and earning straight A’s. Interspersed throughout the book are Elizabeth’s poems, at times expressing frustration, “I want to be set free/From my silent cage”, while others are witty observations of the world around her, “Walking, talking/All of life is moving, grooving/To the beat of life.”
As much as the book itself, Breen’s talk on September 29th, was also a highly personal reveal of the struggles that face parents of autistic children. From the challenge of learning how to communicate with an autistic child, finding the people and resources to support her daughter and help her flourish, advocating, and being adversarial when necessary, Elizabeth’s mother is on no easy journey, and she herself admits the future remains uncertain.
Attendees of this book talk were largely students in the education program, some teachers who have had autistic children in their classroom. For them, Breen’s talk shone a light on that shadowed inner world of the seemingly uncommunicative autistic child. In the words of Elizabeth, “If only they could walk in my shoes/They would share my news: I am in here.”