My son is thirteen years old and he just finished 8th grade. He has proclaimed for years that writing is his nemesis. He is autistic and has been diagnosed with two writing disabilities, dysgraphia and a written expression disability. He is highly verbal. So much so, in fact, that his brain often times goes faster than his mouth and he ends up talking so fast while clenching his jaw that people have a hard time understanding him.
He sees such wonder and beauty in the world and is a total knowledge junkie like me. He saw the ocean for the first time when he was seven years old and the way he describe what he saw was pure poetry, such detail and emotion wrapped up in wording that is not typically used by a seven year old. He didn’t realize that he had described the scene before him with such beauty. He was so overwhelmed with awe that the words just came out of him. He still doesn’t believe me when I tell him the story of that first trip to the Pacific Ocean. He continued to express himself in poetic terms when describing new experiences, but he never clued into what he was doing.
My son struggles a lot with self-esteem when it comes to producing written material. Reading and speaking come easy to him. Science, math, history are all subjects he enjoys, but when it comes to writing, he wants nothing to do with it. He explained to me as I was writing this blog, “I want to run away from writing. In fifth grade I didn’t even want to acknowledge that writing existed.”
The thing is, writing is necessary. It is everywhere in everyday life. It is essential to learning and it is an essential job skill. Writing skills are an important part of communication. If writing is so important, what do you do when it is incredibly difficult to get your thoughts down in written form? What do you do when you don’t have access to a keyboard and your hand doesn’t want to cooperate in forming letters with a pencil? This is what my son has struggled with all his life. In most cases he has avoided writing when ever possible. Then came the option of typing, which he also struggled with, but has greatly improved upon with ongoing practice. The schools where he attended before also would not address his writing difficulties. With the help of a special education tutor these last few years, my son has really blossomed in being able to articulate his thoughts in the form of writing on the computer.
My son has been homeschooled full-time these last two years. In the state we live in, students are required to show proficiency in interpretation of other people’s writings. Interpretation can be difficult to someone who is autistic, particularly due to many who think in literal terms. My son is no exception. My son’s tutor recommended poetry to him as a way to try to practice slowing down when speaking to people. He was to start reading it out loud, but he did not feel comfortable doing that. What I ended up doing instead this last quarter of the school year was help my son learn how to interpret other people’s writing by completing three poetry analyses and then having him write he own poems in any form that he wanted.
He has definitely struggled with this project. The first poem he tackled was “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost. My son is very literal and this first poem caused a lot of difficulties for him. What we decided to focus on was helping him understand what a metaphor is. The second poem he tackled was “A Bird, came down the Walk”, by Emily Dickinson. This poem was a little easier for my son to analyze, but he still had some trouble trying to figure out the meaning behind the poem was. The third and last poem he analyzed was “The Raven”, by Edgar Allan Poe. This analysis came easy to my son. He connected with the poem. He knew right away what the poem was about, which is depression. Unfortunately, my son is very familiar with depression. He was diagnosed with depression when he was six years old. In fact, it was his depression that lead him to a counselor that began questioning if he was also autistic. This questioning lead him to finally being diagnosed with Autism along with various anxiety disorders.
With this poetry project, My son has become much better at interpreting other people’s writing, but I am also sadden that the poem he connected with was a poem about depression. This whole project has been an eye opener to both my son and I, a kind of an awakening. Again, I saw this ability in my son that still hadn’t been really tapped and brought out into awareness. It seemed the right environment, a little prodding, and LOTS of encouragement was what was needed. My son learned that he could express himself in ways he hadn’t really consciously explored before. He still doesn’t think he is very good at writing poetry, but I reminded him that he is just starting. It takes practice and patience to develop a skill.
The last part of the project was for my son to write his own poems. He has graciously allowed me to publish them here. Again, he had so much trepidation about writing these poems. He felt it was something that he really couldn’t do very well and this thinking he had about his ability as a writer really bothered him. He worked very hard on his metaphors. He really wants people to understand what he is trying to express in his poems. He wrote them all on his own. He had no help from his tutor and only a little advice from me on ways to structure a poem. All the words are his. All the imagery is his. All the metaphors are his. I hope you enjoy.
Poem #1 – Written on June 2, 2016
The unknown, a place of festering dreams, ambitions, and fear.
A place some never dare see.
Some throw themselves into the fog of war, to fall into fire.
There are those who sidestep the smoke to never move at all.
Even the armed can be flatted if they sway.
Some spot greatness beyond the fog, but do not cross, they do not change.
Those who do become colossus.
A well-chosen path can turn an infant into a giant.
Traverse the unknown and find greatness.
Poem # 2 – Written June 8, 2016
Britannia’s Call Against Rome
Against the red flood, against the force of extinction!
They think us barbaric; think us monsters, even though genocide is their trade!
Their discord is they bring prosperity.
In which twisted life is loss of identity a paradise?
Their accursed banners have reached our shores.
We shall stop our quarrels to stop these invaders.
If we do not, we will fall into their maws!