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Book Review: Finding Lina A Mother's Journey from Autism to Hope

Finding Lina 9781620875957By Anne Dachel

I spend most of my time looking at the latest media spin on autism.  It's very repetitive work.  Nothing ever really changes.  Reporters keep saying the same things over and over.  Autism is never talked about as a crisis, no one is ever really worried, and most of, while the cause is a perpetual mystery, vaccines don't cause it---all the studies say so.
 
It's very contentious work since I know that members of the media have no real interest in covering this issue in a balanced and fair manner and my views will be attacked.  I tend to get caught up in all this and forget the personal side of autism. 
 
What really stay with me, however, are the individual stories, written mostly by mothers or about mothers who struggle everyday raising a child with autism. 
 
It's not easy to move on after reading The Thinking Moms' Revolution or
All I Can Handle, I'm No Mother Teresa. And now I have to add Finding Lina, by Helena Hjalmarsson,  to that list.
 
Lina Hjalmarsson Lyons started out like so many children, "charming, chatty, joyful."  It was the MMR vaccine that changed things for her.  She developed seizures and regressive autism. 
 
On the back of the book, we read:
 
"At the age of three, in the aftermath of her second MMR vaccine, first came a seizure, and then, to her parents' horror, the loss of Lina's ability to play, use language, and control her impulses. Over the next few years they continued to lose Lina. She communicated her acute discomfort by biting, screaming, hitting, laughing maniacally, and throwing violent tantrums. As a single mother, with the help of her ex-husband, Helena Hjalmarsson tirelessly pursued every possible avenue to find a diagnosis, and more importantly a treatment, for her daughter, and the search continues to this day." 
 
Today, Lina is ten years old. She speaks and has a wide and expanding vocabulary, but she can't read or write. 
 
Lina smileHelena called her book, Finding Lina, because the child Lina was meant to be is lost and her mother is doing everything she can to find her again. Helena included a beautiful letter she wrote to Lina about the dedication she feels and what she understands about her daughter's autism.  
 
"...I promise you, Lina, that I won't die until you can live your life happily without me....
 
"All I know is that it's fruitless to punish or blame you for the things that you do in your world just because it's unacceptable and inconvenient or considered destructive in mine.
 
"Your sweetness and affection, your soft arms around my neck, your cheek pressed tightly against mine....compensates for all the confusion I feel about your life experience being so different from mine."
 
I loved all the episodes where Lina did something surprising and loving toward those around her.  I Lina EEG loved hearing about the progress made in recovering Lina.  And it's never easy.  At one point Helena wrote this to her ex-husband: ''Tony, I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to do this. Just so you know, I'm contemplating renting a car and driving to a different life.  And you should know, I'm not kidding."
 
So many parents who've gone through so much know exactly what she meant.
 
Helena talked about the attitude of the experts who deal with autism.
 
"It's no coincidence, I think, that according to Buddhist philosophy, ignorance is a sin. For as long as people believe autism as well as other developmental and neurological challenges to be incurable ... rather than due to environmental toxins in vaccines, paints, and foods, and/or spiritual matters that we have yet to understand along the path of our own enlightenment---parents will beat their heads against walls in facing the lack of understanding in doctors, social workers, teachers, and the general public and we will not change the lives of our children...."
 
I agree totally with her.  I see so much ignorance and so many lies. Why--after two decades---do officials still know nothing about autism? This is what I call willful ignorance.
 
People need to understand what autism is like for a family and especially for a mother.  Helena described those overwhelming feelings so well: "Most of the time, I went to bed each night and woke up every morning with the same excruciating sense of terror."

 
"When the song was over, I told her how much I loved her and how happy I was to be with her. With her face closely pressed against mine, she smiled and said, 'I love you,' and then kissed me. Tears instantly came to my eyes. I couldn't remember when I had last heard those words from my daughter. It was almost hard to register. I felt so happy and peaceful. We were going in the right direction. I wasn't lost anymore. I knew what to do. I knew something about how I could help my daughter. She would come back to us."
 
This book is intense and I can only marvel at how much can be asked of a parent. I'm sure much of Helena's strength comes from her deep spiritual beliefs and from being a dedicated mother who knows she can never stop.  Just as Diary of a Young Girl about Anne Frank put a human face on the Holocaust, books like Finding Lina reveal the truth about what autism can do to a child .  I just wonder how many more books like this will have to be written before we finally wake up.
 
I recorded several conversations that I had with Helena.  
 
Here Helena talked about what Lina was like as a baby and her regression into autism.


 
Helena acknowledged how difficult things can be.


 
Helena described Lina as she is today and what lies ahead.


Comments

revonda dickens

My son is 29yrs oid and is nonverbal and is diagnosis as being autistic and mental retarded,he is very aggressive and he fights when he doesn't get his way,i have been bitten on the legs,arms,back and hit in the face numerous times .The last time he bit me i fougt him back and i think it shocked him cause he stopped immediatly,im caring for him alone cause everyone else in my family wants nothing to do with him because of the behavior.I have had to stop working cause the nurse who was caring for him told the company she was working for she was afraid of him,so i stopped working and began watching him myself.I am trying to put him some where else to live cause im sick and tired of him and i don't want to start hating him.I feel so lost.

Gayle

I also won a copy of the book Finding Lina and I too can't put it down! It is like reading my own story with my son! Thankyou so much Helena, Anne, and Kim for giving me hope that I will never give up on a cure for our beautiful children!

Jeannette Bishop

Thank you, Anne. Thank you, Helena, for reaching out and sharing your beautiful daughter and her experience, your experience.

Lisa Kelly

I "won" a copy of the book...WHOOT..(i never win anything)..received it yesterday AND as busy as i am (my own severely impacted daughter, single Mom and struggling small business owner..for special needs) i somehow found myself intrigued and "glued"..to the pages...already on pg 125...

I am already inspired and have a new sense of calmness with a new outlook regarding my daughters behaviors! WE WILL WIN THIS...i chanted to myself as my daughter got off the bus today and proceeded to grunt, punch herself, scream and stomp!

An amazing and inspiring story that all should read for sure!:)

Susan

What an enormous heart that Helena has! Thank you for a great story.

Jim Thompson

Thank you Anne for sharing this amazing story and for the insights provided with your interview with Helena. It is wonderful how Helena and Lina have found such joy in this sorrowful path.

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