Guest Post – Melinda Smith – writer of autism poems

I am delighted to introduce to you my first guest blogger, Melinda Smith, from Canberra, Australia.  A mum of two boys (one of whom has autism) and a poet, Melinda has now started to write autism themed poems which will be published next year.  I have been following Melinda on twitter for a few weeks now and was soon  drawn to her autism poetry which captured many of the experiences and emotions I have gone through.  I urge you to read her post and to check our her poetry blog afterwards.


Many moons ago (before kids) I was a published poet with two books to my name.  The second book was launched when my first child was four months old. Little did I realise at the time that it was the last poetry I would have time or energy to write for quite some years!

My first son was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism in 2007, aged 3 and a half (full story in the poem at the end of this post). It was another three years before I was able to write anything at all about my son’s autism. Even once he started preschool at an autism unit and I managed to claw back some writing time out of the chaos at our place, I deliberately stayed away from ASD in my poetry. I did not want to be seen as ‘trading on’ the difficulties faced by my son and our family. However, now I realise that poems from planet autism can actually do some good: they can show us we are not alone.  They can also help explain to the uninitiated what our daily lives are like, in a way nothing else (short of, possibly, a documentary film) can do.

My son is seven now, and I have finally written some autism poems.  I have been lucky enough to get a grant from artsACT, my local arts funding body, to write whole collection of them (working title CircleQuirk), coming out in April 2012 (Autism Awareness Month). There are poems from the point of view of carers, family members, autistic kids, autistic adults…hopefully something for everyone. Whenever I finish a new poem, I post it on the CircleQuirk blog. Please subscribe to the blog if you would like updates when a new poem is added – or follow me on twitter @MelindaLSmith.

I’ll finish with my most recent ‘autism poem’. It is a pretty frank account from a parent living through the first few years of life with a child with neurodevelopmental problems, including diagnosis and starting therapy.  Warning: tissues may be required.


First change nappy
Then Thomas the Tank Engine

First clothes on
Then sandpit

First wash hair
Then chocolate frog

First the only baby crying all night in the hospital
             Then the only baby wailing for the whole of mothers’ group
First the only mother convinced her child was permanently angry
             Then the only one holding him in her arms and doing deep knee bends to calm him down

First thinking it was normal to scream until throwing up whenever we changed routine
             Then shocked when I realised other families didn’t have to live like that
First astonished he could read at eighteen months
            Then astonished at his shrieks every time his baby brother cried
First proud of every fact he could recite about the planet Jupiter
             Then wondering why he needed twelve weeks of physio to learn how to jump

First hair cut
Then play with spray bottle

First stop biting Mummy
Then play with sliding door

First poo *in toilet*
Then flush

First letting his father talk me out of it
             Then talking myself out of it
First knowing those therapists just didn’t get my child
             Then googling autism with a chill in my heart
First joking about ‘our little Rain Man’
             Then realising the joke was on me

First paralysis
             Then fear
First incomprehension
             Then overload

First Music Therapy
             Then Homeopathy
First Triple-P Parenting for Parents of Children with Disabilities
             Then Encouraging the Reluctant Eater
First Occupational Therapy
             Then the social worker
First trusting the system
            Then realising the system didn’t care enough or have enough money

First sit at table to eat
Then spinning with Mummy

First swallow medicine
Then build washing machine from cardboard boxes

First reading lots of parent testimonials
             Then feeling like scum for not doing six hours of therapy with him every day
First wonderfully affirmed by Welcome to Holland
             Then convinced Welcome to Holland left a lot of shit out
First talking to happy well-adjusted mums of older kids on the spectrum
             Then terrified our family wouldn’t survive long enough for our kids to get that old
First poring over Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome for those who love and care for three-to-seven- year-olds
Then realising the only book I needed to read was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

First joining support groups
             Then walking out of meetings because the horror stories people told at them could not possibly be true
First counselling
             Then drugs
First sobbing to my friends
             Then avoiding my friends and hating their normal uncomplicated children
First hearing that carers of autistic children are as stressed as soldiers in combat
             Then bawling my eyes out

First thread the beads on the string
Then letterbox-counting walk

First stay at special needs soccer for ten minutes
Then computer time

First nearly destroying my marriage
             Then clinging desperately to my marriage
First regretting the second child
             Then realising the second child would probably save us all
First wanting my husband to see things my way
             Then grateful he didn’t
First mourning my old life
             Then understanding you never really get it back anyway
First obsessed with getting the whole family to accept the diagnosis
             Then learning to take what help I could get and live with the elephant in the room

First shame
             Then resentment
First desperate for pity
             Then desperate for respite care
First whining
             Then laughing

First crawling through it
             Then writing about it
First today
             Then tomorrow

© Melinda Smith 2011

Written with the financial support of artsACT

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9 Responses to Guest Post – Melinda Smith – writer of autism poems

  1. Jazzygal says:

    A powerful, honest poem showing Melinda and her whole family’s journey. I can sense a relief (if thatt’s the right word?) of getting this journey down on paper.

    xx Jazzy

  2. Aspie in the family says:

    Thank you all for taking the time to read Melinda’s beautiful autism poem and for commenting. For me this is one of the most amazing pieces of poetry I have read because it captures so much of the journey I have been on with my son. Even now that he is older, there is still so much in this poem that I can relate to.

    Thankyou Melinda for being so generous and sharing your poem on my blog.

    Deb xx

  3. Pingback: Grateful for … Poetry | @ Home Mum

  4. Bronwyn says:

    What an amazing poem! It just captures it wonderfully.

    While everyone’s experience is different I am sure that many parents could find resonance with this poem. I am teary eyed and just blown away.

  5. JuliesMum says:

    Gosh, loved this. So succinctly captures the journey you take. Especially that bit about friends with their “normal uncomplicated children” – so been there! Seeing the looks on other parents’ faces when your child is the one that is different.

  6. Galina V says:

    Absolutely breathtaking. Left me in tears. Would love to repost it on my blog, and got in touch with the author on Twitter. Many thanks for posting it.

  7. Spectacular! Beautiful. Like all great poetry, this must be read aloud. You’ll have to stop and cry, but read it aloud anyway.

  8. Lizbeth says:

    So true and beautifully written.

  9. Steph says:

    Fantastic. Covers it all. Good to know there’s always more people out there who ‘get’ it, even if your close friends and family still don’t. Helps to remember it’s not their fault they can’t understand. Thanks.

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