Megan (jehoshabeath) wrote,

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Schoolwork: Essays and note-taking

I'm slowly working my way through The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome by Tony Attwood and the current chapter is discussing cognitive abilities and challenges in school. It made me think back to when I was in school...

In 9th grade English class, we wrote our first research paper. We all went to the Library and were told to select a work of British literature for the project. I had no idea what to choose! I ended up working from Milton's Paradise Lost, even though I'd never read it before. The next challenge was learning the concept of a secondary source. I didn't see how other people's opinions about this work were relevant. Couldn't the poem speak for itself? I had no interest in secondary sources. They seemed to cloud my view of the original work. But the teacher said that we had to use secondary sources. We had to write quotations from them on notecards and include the references on the back. Well, notecards seemed pretty neat to me, but I was still annoyed by the lack of direction with regards to what I should actually put on the notecards. I didn't understand the concept of a thesis and so my "thesis" was some invisible vagueness around which I had to arrange my notecards. What? I had no idea what I was talking about, which made me very unhappy. I needed clear direction. I needed someone to tell me what to write. Do you want to know the patterns of grammar or a list of symbolic references used in the poem? No, they wanted me to "argue" something. can I have an opinion on something that I just learned about? I needed to believe wholeheartedly in what I was writing. I felt very insincere writing about something that was not "truth." So, through the duration of the project I was quite miserable.

Compare this to my creative writing project that same year where I had read the Titanic hearing transcripts along with every history book that I could find on the subject. I used the microfilm reader at the Williamsport public library to search for information that might have been left out of the books. I copied photographs and analyzed them. I drew my own copies from the photographs. I charted out lists of the characteristics of the various lookouts - height, eye color, anything I could find in the crew papers and primary sources. I compared lifeboat photographs with crew and passenger testimonies to identify lifeboat #6. I could even tell you the names of some of the blurry people who were in the boat, even though the history books didn't label them. (Since there were only four men in boat #6, it was pretty easy to distinguish them! There's the Canadian passenger with the mustache, there's Mr. Hitchens at the helm, and Mr. Fleet preparing the lines at the front of the boat where he had been rowing next to the Canadian...) I stayed up to write by day and stayed up by night to think. When my teacher seemed displeased with my enthusiasm, I became very angry. This was truth! It had to be treated with the utmost respect. But as far as the research paper went, I wanted nothing to do with it.

I don't think I wrote any more research papers until I was in college. Even those sounded more like encyclopedia entries than persuasive essays. My freshman year advisor met with me early on to explain that my paper had no thesis. I needed to do more than report facts. But I didn't want to invent some novel "idea" and then shape the evidence to support it. I wanted to analyze every piece of information in order to understand the natural structure and then reassemble it in a visual or written representation. I wanted to copy, to transcribe. I wanted to go back to coloring anatomical layered drawings of fish in our 7th grade ichtyology studies. Back then, we were given drawings of the organs of fish and our homework assignment was to color them, cut them out, and tape them onto the fish page, layering each organ system in order. I loved coloring in the lines and coloring each organ the proper color. I loved cutting around the dotted line just right. I loved arranging the parts inside the fish. I was very pleased with the way my clownfish looked after I'd finished. He was such a cute orange, white, and black color and I liked looking through all the parts inside. The teacher was also impressed and kept it as a sample for future classes. Anyway, that was the type of work that I loved. I could have done it all day! But these research essays were just awful. I was groaning inside whenever I thought about starting work on them.

Another challenge that I had in high school and college was note-taking. When the teacher talked, I transcribed every word in my notebook. Since they talked quickly, I wrote quickly. I didn't know which information was important, so I just wrote it all down! (I don't think it was until graduate school that I realized the importance of section headings in textbooks or handouts.) My right-middle finger had a nice rough spot from where the pencil rubbed against it. I learned to write really fast! Later, I would go through my notes and read them page-by-page, memorizing everything because I wasn't sure what would be on the exam. It always took a long time to study and prepare for exams. Even when I was at Bible conferences, I did the same thing. One weekend, I filled a whole composition notebook and used all of the ink of a brand new blue pen! One interesting thing about my notetaking was that if I wrote something down, I often remembered it pretty well without even looking at my notes a second time. If I took no notes, I struggled to remember...anything. When my classmates asked me about my copious notes, I told them that I could remember things so long as I just write it down. Did this translation from audio input to visual input enable my brain to absorb the information?

To this day, when I'm at church, I rarely write down the outline of the sermon that the pastor gives at the beginning. Instead, I listen to identify the things I know and the things that are new or that catch me. I sail past the former and latch onto the latter and scribble them in my notebook. Retain new information! Well, at least new information about the Scriptures. There is often a lot of new information for me in the sermon openings and examples that relate the Scriptures to current events or media. I don't write that information down, though. It doesn't seem to click with me and seems like an interruption from the lesson. I came to learn that these actually help most people transition into focusing on the message of the sermon, though, so I try to listen patiently. I'm thankful for things that help people to understand and remember the teaching of the Bible. For me, I may need to stare at the passage text, underline words, or hop around the Scriptures to look up verses that come to mind as we study. Everybody has different learning methods :)

Tony Attwood says the following about children with Asperger's Syndrome:

Weak Central Coherence: They "are less able to determine what to notice and what is irrelevant." p.242

Transitions: quoting Donna Williams - "The constant change of most things never seemed to give me any chance to prepare myself for them." p.243

Social and sensory overload: "Throughout the school day they rarely have an opportunity to relax." p.248

Executive Function: They "may have difficulty getting started and knowing what to do first." p.250

Visual Thinking: quoting Temple Grandin - "In class I take careful notes, because I would forget the auditory material." p.253
Tags: anxiety, art, aspergers, books, church, joy, schoolwork, science, sensory

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