By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD -- Jacqueline Williams-Hines didn't set out to write a series of children's books about autism when she turned to the familiar comfort of writing poetry.
She was looking for a way to cope with the diagnosis she'd just received for her then- two-and-a-half-year old son, Joshua.
"It was a catharsis for the depression after Joshua's diagnosis [as autistic]," said the medical transcriptionist who works for New England Orthoapedic Services in Springfield. "A family member suggested I turn one of my poems into a children's book."
Though she had written poetry for many years, Williams-Hines said she'd never considered publishing any of her work until then.
"This was my first foray into self-publishing," she said.
"Joshua and The Startabulous Dream Maker," which provides children and families with "a brief overview of Joshua's day-to-day challenges" as an autistic child, was published in 2006.
That book was followed in early 2008 by "Joshua From the Planet Yethican," which dealt with, according to Williams-Hines, "the preoccupation autistic children often have with certain ideas or objects." It was published with funding from a public grant and monies raised by her No Small Victories Autism Event and Walk-A-Thon.
"At the time my son's preoccupation was with Disney movies," Williams-Hines said. "I wanted to show that in a positive light."
Soon came a third title: "Joshua, That's Sooo Slimming!"
"The title is a play on words," Williams-Hines said. "Stemming is when you see [autistic] children rocking or turning in circles. My son used to bounce on his toes. It's a way for them to deal with sensory overload, to comfort themselves."
She's now at work on her fourth book, "Joshua, I'm Over Here," written in conjunction with Joshua's now 21-year-old brother, Robert. The plot harkens back to a time when both were younger and illustrates the difficulty a sibling can have coping with a brother (or sister) who is autistic.
"It's written from the perspective of a 10-year-old [who is] trying to create a relationship with a toddler who won't make eye contact," she said.
The book, she explained, addresses "the worries and frustrations siblings go through."
"A lot of times we as parents are so focused on the child with autism we forget the siblings, the anxieties and fears they have," she said.
And though her books have not seen wide circulation or sales to date "I've given more away than I've sold," she said -- Williams-Hines still sees her works as a way to provide a window into an autistic's world for peers and their parents.
The writing itself serves an important purpose for Williams-Hines, too.
"I think every parent needs an outlet. To me, writing is the avenue to vent," she said. "It's very stressful to have a child on the [autism] spectrum . you're an education advocate, you're dealing with insurance companies . . . if you don't have a way to vent off that frustration it can be very destructive."
Coping with Joshua's autism has also opened a new career path for Williams-Hines. She's hosted a workshop at Joshua's school -- the now-13-year-old attends Duggan Middle School -- where she's introduced the characteristics of autism to a group of students in the after-school program in an effort to increase their understanding of the disorder.
"When I do the workshop I have my son and another child on the spectrum in the classroom," she said. "I try to show them that there's a child inside [and] he has the same emotions. but he can't express them."
She's also decided to go back to school in the hopes of becoming an advocate for more children like Joshua.
"There's a master's program for autism specialists at Elms. I want to become an advocate for children's services," she said.
Her ultimate dream is "to start my own non-profit to bring more services for children on the spectrum to Springfield."
For more information about Williams-Hines children's books about Autism, or to order a copy, visit www.jacquelinewilliamshinesbooks.com or www.jhwbooks.com.
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