Now is the time of the school year when those big assignments loom in front of high school and college students. For those who struggle with executive function, such as individuals with Asperger’s, autism or ADHD, getting the paper written can be especially daunting. Here are a few tips to get the assignment written. Depending on what’s keeping you from completing, or starting, the work, you may want to try just one tip, or all of them.
Organize Your Ideas
Putting things on paper can make your thoughts clearer. Don’t turn this into a big additional project! Grab a scrap of paper and a pencil, and jot down phrases.
Change How You’re Working
Typing and handwriting utilize the brain differently. If you’re stuck in one mode, try switching to the other. Even a different pen, color of paper, or new font can help rejuvenate your work.
Change Your Sensory Inputs
Your surroundings can impact how well you can focus. Sometimes music can distract you just enough that your brain focuses a bit better. Or, try chewing gum or drinking water. A quiet bedroom may be too quiet, and too easy to fall asleep in. Move to the family room, the student lounge or a coffee shop.
Explain Your Paper
Find someone to discuss your paper with. This can be a classmate working on a similar topic, or even a friend who knows nothing about your material. Putting ideas into actual spoken words can be an effective means of getting them in order.
Start with a Shorter Version
Long papers can be intimidating. Just remember that even a PhD thesis is only a group of pages, written one page at a time. If the assignment is for a 20 page paper, try starting with a 5 page paper. As you work on it, new ideas will come to you and the momentum will keep things going.
Another way to do this is to consider your long paper as a series of shorter papers. Devote a few pages to each idea and then put them together.
Start in the Middle
That first line can be the most intimidating of the whole project. You want it to grab attention, hook the reader. That can be a tough challenge when your ideas are still taking shape. So, put off that first line. Remember that you don’t have to write the paper in order. Of course you’re going to read it through to link your ideas and explain things clearly. If it’s easier to start in the middle, that’s fine.
Start With a Rough Draft
Managing spelling, vocabulary, grammar, writing sentences, organizing paragraphs and putting the whole project together into a brilliant composition is a lot to do a one time. It may be easier to break that down into single steps. Organize your ideas, then write the sentences, then tweak the paragraph structure, then punch up the vocabulary. Do a final check for spelling and grammar. Different parts of your brain are called into play in each task so breaking the job up can be more effective.
Just Do It
Finally, the best way to get that paper done is to just start it. Stop reading, stop researching, stop surfing the internet, definitely stop the video games, and just start writing. Right now!
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.