HuffPost What's Working Honor Roll: How Poetry Can Open A Whole New World For Children With Autism

As journalists, we dutifully report on what's going wrong, from scandals and corruption to natural disasters and social problems. But far too often the media fails to show the whole picture, neglecting to tell the stories of what is working. From scientific breakthroughs to successful crime-reduction initiatives, the What’s Working Honor Roll highlights some of the best reporting and analysis, from a range of media outlets, on all the ways people are working toward solutions to some of our greatest challenges.

elementary school classroom

Chris Martin has been teaching creative writing to children with autism for more than 10 years. Children with autism often struggle in school because of their restricted interests (usually characterized by one very intense passion), but Martin has found a way to turn this characteristic into a vehicle for learning.

"These restricted interests are often portrayed negatively," he writes. "In that they limit the student’s ability to access a wider range of interests."

Martin has found that teaching his students poetry has allowed them to open up to other subjects and people. Metaphors, comparisons and other poetic devices allow the students to explore new ideas through their particular passion, rather than being hindered by it. A poet himself, Martin hopes that his success in teaching poetry will help change the way other teachers construct their lesson plans and connect with their students.

"I use metaphors to describe how the bizarrely specific things one student knows about airplanes can help him understand algebra or contemporary art," Martin explains.

Martin describes one student, named Jason, who found class particularly challenging. But when he wrote poems, he was able to describe people and characters with depth and an understanding of their many emotions, "proving that he could understand some of the complex social emotions that others assumed he was oblivious to," Martin said.

"What he needed was a personalized filter, someone to help direct his deep study of a highly specific subject toward new possibilities," Martin says. "Poetry’s obligation toward economic language helps me craft a focused vocabulary for each student: the thousand words that I know are going to enter one ear and not just fly out the other."


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