For many people with autism, expressing their thoughts and feelings can be a major challenge. Miles McInerney, a high-schooler with autism from California, has broken through that barrier thanks to his talent for writing poetry. McInerney’s poems, in which he vividly shares his experience living with autism, have garnered numerous awards, including a gold medal in the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, an annual contest for students in grades 7 through 12. One poem, “Seeking Cracked Boys for Clinical Trial,” was shortlisted for the international Hippocrates Prize, which focuses on the connection between medicine and poetry.
McInerney’s life and poetry were profiled this month in a report by the San Diego Tribune. In McInerney’s words, “What poetry did is give me a voice.” The report noted that, in addition to poetry, McInerney (now a high school senior) has numerous ambitions and interests, including speech contests and history quiz bowls, and is even learning how to speak Mandarin, Persian, and Arabic.
Born in England to American parents, McInerney’s family relocated to San Diego when he was five years old. He was diagnosed with autism two years later. McInerney’s mother, Kim Kennedy, acknowledged that elementary school was challenging for her son, in part due to sensory issues. After frequently moving to find the right school, the family settled on Bishop’s School in La Jolla for middle school. It was there that
McInerney’s love of poetry was fostered by several individuals, including his teacher Tod Mattox and Mark Radley, and U.S. poet laureate Juan Filipe Herera, who spent a week at the school as a scholar-in-residence. Herera’s poem, “187 Reasons Mexicans Can’t Cross the Border,” inspired McInerney to write “20 Reasons Why I Can’t Order in a Restaurant,” a poem focusing on his own experience with autism.
One of McInerney’s poems, “Seeking Cracked Boys for Clinical Trial,” was inspired by his application for a clinical trial for Suramin, a drug orginially developed over a century ago to treat African sleeping sickness. Dr. Robert Naviaux, a U.C. San Diego professor, found that single dose of the drug temporarily reversed core symptoms of autism. McInerney had mixed feelings about the trial, due to concerns that, while the drug might alleviate some of his symptoms, it might also diminish aspects of his personality. Ultimately, he wasn’t selected for the trial, though his conflicted feelings resulted in the personal and powerful poem.
“Two years later, there is no match,” McInerney writes in the poem, “the other cracked boy is lost, but I am not broken, only cracked.”