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January 2011



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Autistic and artistic: Poet shares his talent

Robert Schrum made up his own language as a child. Now he crafts poetry to express himself, raise money for college and show others with autism that they don’t have to sit on the sidelines of life.

Schrum, 22, self-published his first book, “The Big Picture’s Worth 250 Poems, Vol. 1,” this fall. With more than 600 poems scribbled in notebooks and a goal of writing at least 750, Schrum said he is confident he will publish volume two and more.

The Alleman resident has another series of poetry publications in the works and also a book his 11-year-old nephew will illustrate — “The Hissy Black Cat.”

“You’ve got to have the self-motivation, that’s the thing,” Schrum said.

Schrum hopes to make a living with his writing and also become an English teacher. He’s had an Ankeny copy center make 100 copies of his first book and he’s sold 30 so far. Fifteen percent of the proceeds go to a charity that helps others with autism.

Schrum said he cannot remember much about the mix of words and sounds he created when he was little. But stringing together thoughts, feelings and observations helps focus his emotions, he said.

His autism sometimes caused him to be picked on in the past, Schrum said.

“I’ve kind of kept it in the dark for a while. … I didn’t want to give people a reason to take advantage of me.”

Writing and sharing his poetry has helped him move beyond that. He’s becoming a regular at the open-mic nights at Des Moines-area coffeehouses and clubs.

“It feels good to have this self-expression,” he said, noting that the poems in his first book revolve around the themes of love, grief, religion and philosophy.

Schrum’s mother, Terry, said her son started out as a healthy baby. He was 15 months old, developing normally, “and then one day he woke up and he was just silent for two weeks.”

Rounds of tests brought a diagnosis of regressive autism. “Very few kids are born with signs,” she said.

Schrum was around kindergarten age when he dropped his creative chatter and spoke regular English full time, she said.

“He’s always been so painfully aware of his condition that he tries really hard to fit in,” Terry said.

Schrum said he often felt that other kids had more street smarts than he did. “The autism, it just kind of blinded me from reality,” he said.

An earlier interest in rhymes through rap music got Schrum writing occasionally by his early teens. While other kids performed covers of songs at a school concert, he rapped an original composition.

Reading was another matter, though, as was memorizing facts for tests.

“I used to hate reading,” he said. “I thought it was so tedious, especially when we were made to read certain books.”

Steph Johnson, an English teacher at North Polk High School in Alleman, said Schrum was never afraid to show his emotions through his work. “Always so creative, always outside of the box.”

Johnson bought two copies of Schrum’s book at a recent celebration at his family’s home. One is in her classroom; the other went into the school library.

“That’s just amazing that he’d see outside of himself and give back,” she said of his plan to donate part of the proceeds to charity.

Schrum graduated a semester early from North Polk and started taking classes at Des Moines Area Community College. He’s dropped out twice, saying it’s been too tough for him to juggle classes and work at the same time.

He quit his last job, as a cashier, because he was unhappy with the work, a move he said he now sees as too hasty even though it’s given him more time to focus on his poetry.

Schrum hopes to get another position stocking shelves in a store – “I don’t expect to have a glamorous job” — to save more money for college.

He plans to divide revenue from book sales between money for school and printing more copies of his work.

“Even if you have autism, you can still make a difference,” he said.

Along with being a successful poet, Schrum’s goals are pretty simple: “Be my own boss. Have control over my life.”

Source:   http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20091130/NEWS/911300326/-1/NEWS04/Autistic-and-artistic-Poet-shares-his-talent

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