Aspergers and writing

Writing is one of the major woes for people with Aspergers

It is difficult to describe the depth of despair most Aspies suffer when trying to put pen to paper.  And it starts very, very early on.  There appear (to me) to be at least three different ‘subsystems’ in the brain that are conspiring to make writing next to impossible for young Aspies.

The first one to be encountered is the ‘mechanics of writing’.  Many Aspies have less ‘sidedness‘ differentiation, so their ‘writing hand’ is less ‘dominant’ – and thus has less fine motor control – than most peoples.  This is often encountered early on in childhood – as a result, the kids may not enjoy drawing, or they may draw with both hands.  Regardless of drawing, however, Aspie kids usually display severe difficulties when learning the mechanics of writing.  This is more pronounced in cursive writing, where forming letters needs to be combined with smoothly moving the hand along the page, so many Aspies end up printing instead.  

I suspect this is a motor issue, and could be overcome by ‘overdoing’ the practice.  This has, to a degree, been my case:  where I went to school, we started out learning cursive, and we were marked on our handwriting.  I totally sucked at it, for the longest time.  Then, I saw what handwritings the teachers marked as the best, and shamelessly immitated them.  And yes, I spent endless hours practicing, because I was going to be *%$#*^# if those air-headed girls with ‘pretty’ handwriting got better marks than I did.  The result?  I am told I have extremely beautiful, though almost completely illegible, handwrititng!

Another problem which Aspies encounter when writing is – and this is based on my observations, not an expert assertion – a problem with short term memory.  At least six different kids with Aspergers have described it as ‘the ideas going by so fast, by the time I’m done the first letter, I don’t know what word I am writing’.  Now, this is very interesting, but worthy of a post of its own (soon, I hope).

The third major problem I have observed is a little more complicated.  I do not know how frequent it is, but again, I have observed it in very many Aspie kids.  It has to do with language, its use and the very words that make it up.  Also, many Aspies perceive there to be a big difference between what is spoken and written.   Perhaps a little explanation is needed…

Asperger Syndrome is often described as ‘verbally expressive form of Autism‘.  Now,  it is important to make a distiction here:  just because Aspergers falls under the same spectrum of disorders as Autism does, or that the spectrum itself may have the word ‘Autism’ in it, does not mean that it is nearly as crippling as Autism can be.  Comparing Aspergers to Autism (as the Ontario Government recently did, in order to deny Autistic children proper treatment) is about as accurate as comparing a sinus infection to pneumonia – both are respiratory system infections, but they are not the same in severety or affect.  It would be an inappropriate comparison.

While Aspies are usually able to speak extensively on a topic, most have a difficult time writing on a topic.  This is very curious and puzzling to many parents and educators:  it can appear as defiance! So, what is it that makes it OK to say things, but not to write them down?  Perhaps an unusual form of perfectionism could be at play here.

It is my observation that Aspeis, especially children, consider anything that is written down to be much, much more serious, important and permanent than what is spoken.  Even when practicing forming letters, some of these kids will be extremely anxious about not being able to get the shape just perfect.  Not Aspies are this extreme, but I certainly was, and so was one of my sons.  He was so terrified to commit an imperfect letter onto paper, we ended up getting him to practice writing onto clear plastic sheets (of the type you can put through the printer, to use for overhead presentations) with easy-wipe-off markers.  And even thought he could wipe off any letter he did not like, before anyone else could see it (and at first, he wiped off all of them), it was still hard for him.

It is my suspicion that in a similar way, it is difficult for Aspies to write ideas down because they are not sure if their idea is good enough to be commited to paper.  And even if they get over that, and judge the idea worthy – and this is the key here – it is next to impossible to express their idea accurately, using everyday language.

I have often wondered – and would appreciate feedback from those who have observed this – if something similar could be at play with Autism…  Many (not tall) autistic children are said to begin learning language relatively normally, but then at some point, they revert and begin to use language less and less.  Could it be possible that as they learned language, words attained ‘colouring’ – secondary, or implied meanings – unrelated to their ‘object or action definition’…. and that these words became perceived as no longer accuratley describing its original meaning, and therefore discarded?  I don’t know, but I would be curious what others think about this.

It is often asserted that Aspies use language somewhat rigidly, or sound very pedantic.  Could it be that a similar perfectionism in expressing an idea, a similar subconscious frustration with the inaccuracy of language, is at play when Aspies try to put ideas onto paper?

I love debating, and do it online.  And, people have noted, that whenever I get into a serious debate, I spend most of my time defining the specific and narrow meanings of every word I intend to use (plus a few others, that I exressly will not use).  Many people find it redundant, annoying and boring.  Some think it is a ploy to manipulate the debate.  But I do not intend it as any of these:  before I can express what I mean, I need to ensure that there is no ambiguity in the language I use to express my point.  General language simply cannot do the job!

There is no simple answer to overcoming this.  

Each Aspie may require a completely different approach, what works for one may not work for another.  It will take years.  And it will always take much more time and effort for an Aspie to write something than it would take most people.  (It usually takes me 2-6 hours to write any single post – and some, I have spent 14+ hours composing.)

Yet, Aspies can learn to write.  And when they do, the documents they produce are usually very well researched and accurately expressed!


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