Many of my clients on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum really struggle with productivity and distraction and the seemingly simple matter of getting things done. Although this is an issue for neurotypicals as well, I find that distraction and procrastination can be a lot more challenging for those on the spectrum.
Frequently, procrastination and distraction can occur when people get caught up in details and lose sight of the big picture.That’s not surprising really, because one of the key traits of both autism and Asperger’s can be, as stated in the DSM IV, a “persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.” Uta Frith refers to this “detail focus” as Weak Central Coherence. While a detail focus can result in amazing achievement and the ability to work creatively and deeply, at the same time, it can lead to lots of activity with little output. Generally, work output does require the leap from detailed focus to a more general viewpoint. Sometimes individuals can afford to take the time to study, learn, delve deeply into an idea and see where the material leads them. But often, this drifting, detailed investigation can be nothing but a waste of time.
So, how do you move from the details to the big picture? With many of my clients I try to take advantage of their strength in visual processing. Create a graphic image of the project, listing all the details. Headline this image of details with a title explaining how all these terms relate. That headline is usually the big picture.The details can be organized in different ways, depending on how you think. If you’re logical and structured try creating a numbered, indented outline, with small details organized into bigger topics. If you’re more artistic than mathematical, a “detail cloud” may be more meaningful. This is similar to those keyword clouds that sometimes appear on the sidebar of blogs.
Whatever you create to explain your project, put it clearly on a piece of paper where you can see it at a glance. Ask yourself frequently, “How does what I'm doing relate to what I'm trying to produce?” and “What am I trying to produce here?” Confused? An example can mean a lot more than an explanation, so please check back for the next blog posting where I'll show some examples of these techniques.