The hardest thing about being a parent is when you don’t understand what is going on. When you are trying to help your child and comfort them and they are screaming like you are hurting them. When you see other kids shy away from your child because your child can’t pick up on the social cues and you don’t know how to explain what is going on.
This was our reality with Emelie. For 11 years, we didn’t have a diagnosis that we could understand or make sense to her challenges. We couldn’t bridge that gap to help her navigate socially to find friends. When she’d be in a meltdown, we couldn’t understand why touching her was “hurting her” as she screamed in pain at us.
Once she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, PDD-NOS and a Sensory Processing Disorder, things began to make sense. We were able to do research and figure out what works for her and what didn’t. We were able to get therapies in place for her that helped her progress in areas that she could now communicate to us what was happening to us. That communication may not have been in that moment, but later on, so that we could grow with her. From there we developed coping tools for her.
Those opening paragraphs were written by Jennifer Dirks, mom to Emelie, and author of “Emelie’s Voice.” Jennifer is one of my wonderful Mighty League Autism Moms…she’s such a positive leader for the autism community and I’m so thrilled that she’s published a book about her family’s journey. I asked her a few questions about her book and (special bonus) if she would share some of Emelie’s illustrations.
Tell us about your new book Emelie’s Voice…why did you write it?
Emelie’s Voice is a book sharing my daughter’s voice. I took notes of those things she started to communicate to us as we worked towards coping skills that helped her and understanding her needs. One day I was organizing the notes and found that there was a message that could be shared. We hope that we can bring a sense of hope and understanding to other families and youth as to what that child may be going through. Perhaps even allowing that child to see they aren’t alone and find their voice. We say “may” as we know each child has their own unique experiences.
How is the book a part of your autism advocacy?
For me, the book is a core piece of my sharing with others how Emelie found her voice. Part of that begins with sharing that these children have so much in common with their not autistic counterparts. In addition to that, it opens up the dialog of how we helped Em find her voice so that others can hopefully find theirs.
For Emelie, it’s the core of her advocacy because it’s how she starts a conversation. She isn’t shy anymore. She tells people that she has autism and has a book about her written by her mom and she drew the pictures. She has shared it with anyone and everyone. It opens a dialog she’s very comfortable with.
Who are your intended audiences for Emelie’s Voice?
Em and I agree that this book is intended for everyone.
Did Emelie participate in the making of your book?
Yes. She helped me make sure the words were right and I was conveying the right things. She also illustrated the book. All the artwork is hers, including the cover.
How does she feel about telling her story?
At first she was nervous to tell it. Then as we worked on the artwork and she started to see the project come together she would get excited. Once the book went to print she was so over the moon about it that we had to keep her distracted. When the book came she was in awe and then she took it ever where with her. She tells everyone about it. She’s more proud of that book than I am, and I am very proud of it.
Is the book in digital or printed form (or both)?
Where can we purchase it?
If children leave with only one message after reading Emelie’s Voice, what do you want it to be?
The main message that Em and I both wanted to convey was that even though a child with autism may seem different from a child who doesn’t have autism, they aren’t that different. We hope it will help other find their voice and be able to connect and know they aren’t alone.
The same question for adults—what’s the message you hope they take away?
It’s the same message. I think we have too many people who don’t understand autism and how it affects the kids that this was a way to bridge that gap between adults and children as well. Hopefully, it ends up fostering a dialog that will allow both of them to understand each other better.
Take a look at some of Emelie’s wonderful illustrations featured in “Emelie’s Voice”
Find out more about the Dirk’s and their book on: