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Writing and Autism: Audience Analysis

This will be one of the shorter posts in my writing and autism series.

Students with autism spectrum disorders can analyze situations and audiences, but they are more prone to mistaken assumptions about their audiences. The challenge for students with ASDs might be summarized as:

  • Assuming audience familiarity with information, generally assuming too much prior familiarity with the topic addressed

I tend to forget that not everyone shares my interests. This is not uncommon among people with autistic traits. I cannot comprehend why other people aren't fascinated by computers, history, music, economics, theater, typography, and a dozen other topics. If there's something to be learned, why would anyone not want to learn it?

When I write about various topics, I forget that not everyone reads and researches compulsively. My wife, who edits most of what I write, often identifies the "leaps" I take and reminds me to fill in the gaps. That's not always easy, since I have difficulty imagining less knowledge than I have on a topic. I can, however, imagine having more knowledge — because that is what I want.

The autistic students I've interviewed often have narrow interests, with extreme depth. They assume a great deal of knowledge, too, at least in that special area. However, they also have little or no interest in some other topics. That can pose a problem in higher education, too.

I'm not sure how to best address challenges with audience analysis. My suggestion is to use peer review and discussions to help college writers see what others do not know. That would be similar to the function my wife provides for me: a reality check on what my audience knows.

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