How Poetry Enables Children with Autism to Educate Others

Photo credit: Autism Speaks

It can be very difficult for children with autism to be understood by their classmates and peers, but recently some have been turning to poetry.

Jadon's Poem

Candace Thompson recently submitted a poem by her son Jadon, who is 11 years old and on the autism spectrum. When asked what inspired him to write the poem, he explained that he wanted his classmates and teachers to "understand what it's like to have autism and how noises hurt his ears."

He wrote:

In a world where your ears never get a break from noise
I wish I could cry out for the noise to go far, far, far away
but I can't, nobody can
It's only a thought, a dream
As I look up to the sky, I see something out of the blue
It takes me a while to see what it is
But when I do see it it comes down
It's a Huge umbrella
As soon as I grab the candy cane handle I take off into the clouds whoosh
It's silent up there
very very silent
As I look down everything is the size of pebbles.
Then I miss them
I miss my friends, my family, and my pets and teachers
While I was looking down I lower more and more to the ground until my feet touch the ground
Now I miss the quietness
But hey that's life and that's out of our control
Now I'm heading to school, into the bus
I mumble go away noise I walk into the screaming school
and into the chattering classroom
As I much as I dislike noise
but I also like it too

Benjamin's Poem

I am odd, I am new
I wonder if you are too
I hear voices in the air
I see you don't, and that's not fair
I want to not feel blue
I am odd, I am new
I pretend that you are too
I feel like a boy in outer space
I touch the stars and feel out of place
I worry what others might think
I cry when people laugh, it makes me shrink
I am odd, I am new
I understand now that so are you
I say I, "feel like a castaway"
I dream of a day that that’s okay
I try to fit in
I hope that someday I do
I am odd, I am new

This moving poem was written by a 10-year-old boy in New York. He wrote it as a simple school assignment, but the teachers and the thousands of people who read it afterward were extremely moved by his work. Such an intimate look into the lives of those with autism spectrum disorder is rare, resulting in the poem going viral on the internet.

The fifth-grade assignment at Cumberland Head Elementary was to write a poem about themselves as a project to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Benjamin has Asperger's Syndrome, and was given the first two words of the poem, leaving him to fill in the rest of each line. The poem is called "I am", and has touched thousands, not least of which being his parents.

His parents initially shared the beautiful poem on Facebook, and when the National Autism Association found it, they couldn't help but share it on their own page as well - where it got over 23,000 likes. But likes weren't all, people commented with messages of support and praise, bringing needed attention to the condition.

Benjamin's father, Sonny, said that Benjamin is very deeply touched by all the support being received from all over the world. He says, "we are trying to give him news of his poem in small amounts, as this entire thing can be very overwhelming for him."

While anyone would be overwhelmed by so many viewers on a school assignment, Benjamin's father cannot contain his immense pride in his son. He explains, "I am so proud of Benjamin for the effort he put into this poem. But when he wrote down the first four lines, and had me read them, I told him that it was great and that he could really make something special if he continued to focus."

Benjamin sometimes isn't crazy about completing homework assignments, but with his father's support, this one was different - and became something he enjoyed. When he showed his parents the finished product, they inevitably felt upset and downtrodden that their beloved son felt "isolated, alone, misunderstood and odd at school." But as they continued to read the poem, they realized it was so much more than that. His father explained, "as the poem went on, we realized that he understands that he's odd and that so is everyone else in their own way, which is what Ben wants everyone to embrace."

After he completed his poem and was supposed to read it aloud in class, his anxiety took control of him. He decided to stay home from school to avoid his impending fear, which was when his father decided to post the poem on Facebook. He thought notes of encouragement from relatives and friends would prove to Benjamin that his poem was worthy, and good, but he had no idea how far the poem would go.

As perhaps the ultimate stamp of approval on the poem, when the National Autism Association shared the poem, they added the caption "You did an excellent job, Benjamin! You fit right in with us because we're #oddtoo."

Although the outpouring was slightly overwhelming, Benjamin's parents tried their best to read as many comments as they could to him, to prove how powerful and well-written his poem was. They didn't want him to be embarrassed of the work that was so inspirational and powerful, but to be proud of it. Even Benjamin, who was embarrassed of his poem and didn't think it was any good at first, couldn't help but smile when he knew that strangers were calling him words like "genius", "talented", or "brilliant."

Here are some of the words of support from readers:

"You are talented, brilliant, young man. You wrote what was in your heart in a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing." Jane Ovaska

"Only a genius could have written this. How about that. You are a genius, Benjamin. The people who laugh, really want to have what you have. But, God only gave it to you." John Johnson

"You are right, we are all odd in our own way. Everyone comes with a little 'quirk!' Great job and keep writing" Michael Gage

The general message behind all of the comments was that Benjamin should keep writing, because he has a tremendous gift that is meant to be shared with others.

Benjamin's father explained that he thought the best part about the success of Benjamin's poem was that so many other people could be touched by it, so they could feel better about also being a little bit odd in their own way. He explained, "we would love if Benjamin's poem could help start a social movement that people embrace who they are no matter what that may be. Be proud of yourself. As we have said to Benjamin, odd is different and different is amazing."