Aspergers and writing: ‘build’, not just ‘revise’

‘Everyone’ who is familiar with Aspies knows that most of us struggle with writing.

Not all of us – Aspergers affects each person a little differently and to a different degree.  And, it affects males and females a little differently, too.  Perhaps that is why my post  ‘Aspergers and writing’ continues to get so many hits.

Today, I got a comment on it which raises something important.  That is why I’m posting this comment – and my quick reply to it – as its own post here:

Your comments about perfectionism and the difficulty Aspies have in putting words to paper make me wonder if this is why it’s so difficult for Aspies to revise what they’ve written: that once they get something down on paper they have committed their ideas to writing and there is no other way to put it. As a writing teacher, I often run into a wall when I ask my Aspie students to revise and I wonder if you think this explanation is accurate.

My response was:

I think that you are on the right track. I would like to nuance it slightly, if I may.

There are several things going on.

It is not that the Aspie may not be able to think of different words to put things into: it may be true at some times, byt certainly not at others. For example, many Aspies are very verbal – and they can say things out loud in many, many different ways. As a matter of fact, you may have a hard time shutting them up – they’ll describe the same things in so many ways.

The problem comes whith ‘investing’ into writing the words down. They have been ‘selected’ and ‘sweated over’ – why do you want to change them?

This constant ‘revision’ most writing teachers insist is part of ‘proper writing’ reduces me to white-hot fury! It it’s worth writing down, it’s worth doing it RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!

Once an Aspie HAS written something down and you are asking them to ‘revise’ it – you are asking them to take something that is ‘right’ and change it….obviously, if you take something that is ‘right’ and change it, you make it ‘wrong’! Then, when they hand in the version you forced them to change from ‘right’ to ‘wrong’, you give them a bad mark…

No wonder we don’t want to ‘revise’!

OK – that was the ‘emotional’ response.

Now, for more ‘reasoning’….

There is a problem – an actual physical problem in the neural connections – in the brain which makes it difficult for MOST (not all – we are all individuals), especially male, Aspies to write. Physically write.

Forcing us to ‘write’ and endlessly re-write the same sentences over and over is mental torture to us. It rubs our noses in our failure. So, we avoid it like the plague. If it’s a computer file, we’ll be less freaked out by it. But asking us to hand-copy out the same bits over because other bits had changed is unreasonable.

I actually can tell – byt the style of writning – if something I ‘produced’ was first spoken and then trans-scribed/typed into the computer, or if I wrote it on a piece of paper in longhand and then typed it into the computer, or if I directly typed it into the computer. Honestly, my sentence structure and syntax are significantly different in each one of these styles of ‘writing’. Perhaps you could experiment with your students on this theme….

But!

This is the way I helped my kids ‘get over’ the whole ‘revision aversion’ (I could not very well undermine the teacher, right?).

I explain that the teacher is trying to teach them how to build a piece of writing ‘from the ground up’. It is a particular methodology to teach, and marks are awarded at each stage: sort of like when you learn to swim, they first teach you to put your face in the water and only later want to see you perform the full butterfly stroke…

So – first ‘version’ is NOT supposed to be ‘a written story’ or ‘a written essay’.

Instead, organize your thoughts and put 1-2 words for each paragraph: enough to ‘record’ the ‘main idea’ or ‘main thrust’ of what this will say. This will be handed in as ‘brainstorming’ – teacher needs to get it to keep a record of it, so they can prove what they gave you the marks for if someone audits their work.

On the next ‘version’, you go to each one of the paragraphs and put in 1-2 words for each sentence you will write in the finished piece. Check that each paragraph still has the same ‘focus’ as the ‘brainstorming’. This will be first draft – again, marks, teacher keeps for records…

In between each step, take the teacher’s feedback and incorporate it in – again, this needs to show up. It’s the teacher’s job to give you feedback, so it’s important for the records they keep to reflect it. If you don’t, they’ll think they are not teaching you right, be sad, not like your work….pick your sentiment.

On the next ‘version’, you write BARE sentences for the 1-2 word things. Make sure all ideas are there, but not really all the descriptions, and not nicely or fancily. You’re hitting the highlights. That is the next draft.

Finally, you take your draft and connect up things, dress up the sentences, and so on.

It’s a method of constructing something. Teachers must document they taught it to you.

This way, you’ll show how you built the written piece. It’s not so much ‘revision’ or ‘revising’ it – that is a very poor label for this. But, that is the label we are stuck with.

Does this help explain the thought process?

2 Responses to “Aspergers and writing: ‘build’, not just ‘revise’”

  1. Aspergers and writing: ‘build’, not just ‘revise’ « Xanthippa on Aspergers Says:

    […] and writing: ‘build’, not just ‘revise’ Cross-posted from Xanthippa’s Chamberpot (where the comment which this post is in response to was […]

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I am fascinated by what you’re saying about Aspergers and writing. I am a woman, undiagnosed, and am intrigued by the possibility that my struggles with written communication may be related to other lifelong cognitive and social challenges. The twist is that I am pursuing a writing-intensive career in academia. I LOVE text. I LOVE writing. I LOVE ideas, burrowing into them, becoming an expert, and talking other people’s ears off. But when I sit down to write, I cannot, for the life of me, translate those sentences into… sentences. This has been understood in the past as perfectionism. Essentially, anxiety over rejection and judgment. But I know and have known there is more going on. There is a chasm between thinking and seeing the finished paragraph in my mind, and writing even just the first sentence. I do get parts of sentences out, and my main strategy is actually similar to what you suggest in your post. I call them “bookmarks,” which seem analogous to what you’re calling highlights. I also think of them as IOUs (IOU a string of words that will tie together one idea and another, or IOU a verb for this set of nouns, etc). Knowing how fast my mind moves when I begin to write, I actually let it breeze through the material in my mind and just “mark” the gesture of the sentence with a few important words. I cluster them together into groups (what will hopefully become paragraphs), then I return and try to expand a little more, stringing the sentences together. When I can form sentences one after another it is a great victory. Then I hit a wall! Now, the place I get stuck in my drafts is at a stage that, if I share it with another person, does not make sense. It isn’t readable. Words do not follow one another in sentence forms. They are bundles or groups of parts of sentences that, to me, are a skeleton. But to others look like a cut-up poem. Other people will say, “You just need to connect the ideas. You have it all here, now string them together.” So my question to you is about the step to creating bare sentences. This is a big one for me. Why is this so hard? For me, it is, yes, that I see a mismatch between what I am reading in my head or what I can say aloud, and what I have on paper. It isn’t “right.” Not that it isn’t as “good” as what I thought in the first place, but actually that it says something completely different than what I intended. Of course, the new construction could become a paper in itself, but not the one I sat down to write. I am getting awfully wordy here, but I am just relieved to see that when I experiencing this process as a disconnect, or a miscommunication in my cognition, that it may in fact be true.

    I use a tape recorder sometimes and this is a massive help, but like you, it is a completely different mode of working and produces a different kind of writing. Then, some of my successful paragraphs are ones where I can see the finished text in my head as if I am reading it on a page, and transcribe it to my working draft. Neat! Have you heard this before?

    I like your suggestion in another post to make cards with different parts of the sentences and rearrange them. It relieves the sense of permanency of the page. Thanks for writing about this!


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