Unrestricted Interest is a writing program and consultancy dedicated to transforming the lives of kids and adult on the autism spectrum through poetry. Our teaching-writers work one-on-one with student-writers to explore their passions and forge pathways to a richer life on and off the page. We also write and install creative writing curricula tailored to the needs of specific schools, programs, and institutions. Unrestricted Interest is devoted to twin missions, interrelated and mutual. One is to serve the autism community by increasing quality of life, quality of expression, and opportunities for advocacy. The other is to create meaningful, fulfilling, and sustaining work for poets outside of academia.
Many unconventional learners, and especially students on the autism spectrum, are characterized by their proclivity for “restricted interests,” topics that engender intense enthusiasm and devoted study. Traditionally, educators have seen these “obsessions” as obstacles to learning, but at Unrestricted Interest we view them as passions and portals, access points through which a student on the spectrum can discover a love for science, history, English, and especially creative writing. As celebrated writers and college professors, we harness our passion for language to help students expand their horizons, their abilities, and their confidence. Over time, students at Unrestricted Interest learn to access these portals independently, mapping a future where their intrinsic talents can lead the way. We don't believe exceptional students need to be fixed, we believe they deserve to be transformed, and we support the neurodiversity movement in embracing the depth and breadth of every exceptional mind.
Each of our students is unique and we expect each text brought to life at Unrestricted Interest to be just as varied. As we grow to understand what makes students exceptional, we begin to recognize opportunities where passions can facilitate growth in areas of challenge.
TO GROW AMBITION
Say we meet a twelve-year-old boy fascinated by sleek foreign cars, but struggling with history and English. We begin by writing short poems and celebrating each session by making a quick sketch of one of his favorite cars. As his writing grows stronger, he becomes more and more ambitious. By the end of his first year he has researched and co-written a short play about Ferruccio Lamborghini, the son of grape farmers who eventually redefined the look of modern automobiles. Not only does he write and edit this play, but he also helps to design a commemorative chapbook of the script. He even pulls together a small cast of friends to help him debut the play before a select audience.
TO EXPAND FOCUS
Sometimes we meet students with passions of extreme focus. Imagine a young girl who possesses a strong aversion to reading anything that isn’t explicitly about honey badgers. After many poems celebrating the crafty honey badger, we might explore similar early mammals that were actually the evolutionary precursors to our own species. We watch nature documentaries tracking these early mammals and along the way we learn some basic principles of literature: in every episode there are protagonists and antagonists and neutral characters that help move the plot along. After a year or so, she has finally shed her aversion and is beginning to read classic texts, like To Kill a Mockingbird. A few pages into this book she observes that the main character’s experience mirrors her own. This revelation leads to The Spectrum Kids Guide to Scout, where she details every moment in the novel where a kid on the spectrum could find solace in shared experience with the main character.
TO WIN RESPECT
Often we encounter students whose passions backfire in more rigid educational contexts. There was the example of fourteen-year-old Christopher, who presented as nearly non-verbal unless he was talking about the original film version of The Planet of the Apes. It’s all he wanted to talk about, and this was creating friction between him and his classmates, not to mention his teachers. When we challenged Christopher to turn his penetrating knowledge of the movie into an epic poem, he responded with a masterpiece. Not only was his version filled with brilliant observations, but it also demonstrated insight about the emotions and motivations of each character that stunned his parents and teachers. Once he had won their respect, his experience at school began to improve, and his teachers found ways to bridge their curriculum with Christopher’s interests.