Journaling can be a fascinating and enriching process. At its core it brings a sense of creativity into your day-to-day existence, empowering you to transform the basic elements of your life into an intensely personal record. It can also be a useful tool in maintaining your mental health; it’s often recommended by professionals to help patients gain personal insights into their thought processes, keep track of their symptoms, and express their feelings. Whatever your intention for your journaling is, it can be holistically beneficial.
However, that’s not to say that starting and maintaining a journal always feels accessible. If you are an adult living with a learning disability or neurodivergent traits, you may find that you have difficulty with the activities that a traditional journaling routine requires.
This routine may not mesh with the challenges you live with and can make journaling more frustrating. Understandably, you might be discouraged from continuing despite knowing how good it can be for you. As with so many aspects of life, sometimes it takes a little strategizing and approaching journaling in a way that could make it sustainable for your lifestyle.
Journaling is a great tool to express yourself. However, it is not always best approached in a freeform manner. An organized process allows you to plan a more creative approach and set out your ideas with greater clarity. That being said, when you’re living with cognitive, mental, or neurological challenges, organization may not always be quite so easy to achieve.
If you are living with autism, you may find that your atypical experience of executive function tends to hamper your attempts at organization. It’s certainly not impossible, but issues with working memory, activity initiation, and cognitive flexibility can make organization more difficult. However, by understanding your own areas of difficulty, you can be more successful in organizing your journaling.
If you find large amounts of information overwhelming, make lists that take you step-by-step through your intentions for your next journal entry. If you struggle with your memory and starting activities, consider scheduling gentle alarm reminders ahead of time.
One issue that is common both with writers experiencing autism and those living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD), is keeping thoughts organized when they’re just inside your head. Try not to feel discouraged. You might find it helpful to transfer plans about your journaling from your head into a more visual and manageable medium.
Mind-mapping in particular has become recognized as a tool for people living with ADHD to organize their thoughts. This approach empowers you to take your journaling ideas for a walk, explore different concepts and how you might achieve them — all the while keeping these elements in an easily reviewable space. If you feel doing this on paper would add more disorganized clutter to your life, consider using online software that you can save and neatly store away until you need to review it.
Too often, people consider that journaling with a learning disability or neurodivergent traits means that you need to overcome hurdles to engage successfully. This isn’t necessarily the case. Rather, it can be far more meaningful, satisfying, and personal to approach your journaling from an unconventional perspective. Sure, look for tactics that can help you to handle difficult aspects, but also get creative in approaching your craft in a way that reflects how you experience the world.
If you live with dysgraphia — a neurological condition that affects handwriting, character spacing, and often spelling — you might find journaling to be difficult. Allowing yourself additional time to just slow down and take the space you need can, of course, help. Trying out different thicknesses of writing implements can be useful too since dysgraphia can lead to difficulties with gripping a pen.
However, you can also consider eschewing the traditional handwritten journal entirely. Be creative in typing and printing out your entries in creative typefaces that reflect the subject or mood. Paste these into your physical journal, and embellish these illustrations or additional short statements applied in your hand.
If you happen to be on the autism spectrum, journaling can act as a way to emphasize the specific attributes of your neuroatypical experience. Let it be a tool to explore your curiosity in a specific subject area or topic. Write down the thoughts and ideas that intrigue you about the topic. Couple this with images or diagrams that help you more fully understand and express your interests.
Don’t limit yourself to the usual lined paper or media that traditional journals tend to use. Utilize graph paper, watercolor paper for comics — whatever best helps you follow your curiosity down a satisfying rabbit hole. The point is to not allow yourself to be restricted by the traditions of the activity and make it personal to you.
Consider Your Space
When people talk about journaling, a lot of the focus tends to be directed toward the writing techniques they apply or even the pens and inks they might use. However, one of the too often overlooked elements that can be most important is the space in which you are applying your craft. You can’t always change the issues that arise as a result of learning or neurological challenges, but often you do have the power to take a personal approach to the environment that you’re creating in.
Let’s face it, when you’re living with autism or indeed other forms of neuroatypical experience, you may well find elements of your surroundings overwhelming or distracting. This can be disruptive to your ability to think creatively and clearly. Set aside a specific room for your journaling that includes a sensory-friendly space. It can be helpful to paint the walls in a neutral color — earth tones or pale shades — as these can elicit a certain sense of calm. But if you can’t set about redecorating, small adjustments like having drawers and pots to store your journaling materials in can help keep your area clutter-free. Even a small, inexpensive change like changing harsh light bulbs to softer, warmer versions can make a difference to your ability to create comfortably.
Journaling has the potential to provide you with a fun, creative pastime that also has benefits on your well-being. However, being neuroatypical can make it difficult to engage in — at least from a traditional perspective. Taking time to adapt useful organizational techniques and make environmental changes that support your activities can help you to handle the challenges you face. Additionally, it can be just as important to use the knowledge of your neuro-divergence to approach the task from an unconventional perspective that you might find more personally fulfilling.