The Big Picture (everything else is just details)…(?)

I struggled in school, for several reasons.

Reason number one is that it moved too slowly for me, especially during the early years.

Reason number two is that my education and concentration were being disrupted and interfered with by the presence of unruly, “uncivilized” (in my view) other kids.

Those first two reasons will probably get have gotten their own post. 🙂

But there’s a third reason.  I just wanted the “gist” of a subject; I had trouble relating the details to the Big Picture/main idea.  So I struggled.

This runs very contrary to my research of Asperger’s.  We’re supposed to be very good at skills such as analyzing, systematizing, and drawing connections between seemingly unrelated concepts or details.  We’re supposed to be able to compose these little diagrams in our heads and file away everything very neatly….right?

So why did I (and why do many other Aspie/autistic people) have a difficult time with this?  Filing away details and organizing them is supposed to be one of our strong points, so I’m confused about what I know about myself and what I read from firsthand accounts written by other Aspie/autistic people.  (That’s Conundrum #1.)

In school, I thought I preferred the “Big Picture”.  I remember saying “just give me the nuts and bolts of it.”  I remember looking at the “master” diagrams of a particular concept or subject and finding it immensely helpful.  I thought that “everything else” was “just details”.  I thought I was a Big Picture kinda girl, and I remember frequently feeling frustrated when that Big Picture wasn’t clear to me.

What I didn’t realize was that I craved that Big Picture and sought it out so intensely because I needed that Big Picture to anchor me.  I needed it because (I think) I did find the smaller details easier to grasp.  I was well aware that it seemed like I had to work a lot harder than most people to figure out where all those details fit into that Big Picture.  I had to spend more time figuring out the relationships between the different minutia.

So where does that leave things?  Does that mean that all this time, I’ve been learning-disabled to some extent?  Or does that mean that I simply have a different learning ability, or maybe a less-common learning style?  That’s Conundrum #2.

I do know that if you plant a cactus in Canada, it won’t grow.  On the other hand, I know that if you plant one in Texas, then not only will it grow, but it will flourish, bloom, and reproduce.  Was I simply a cactus trying to grow in Canada instead of Texas, trying to cope with Canadian climate and soil, and all of us (my teachers, parents, and myself) were frustrated with my difficulties because nobody (except probably my mom) realized that I was a Texas cactus instead of a Canadian fir tree?

I haven’t been able to answer either of the two Conundrums yet.  Maybe someone out there knows more. 🙂

I do know this: I need the Big Picture to anchor me, sort of like a “You Are Here” on the Directory stand at a mall (yuck…malls….).  If I have a visual Big Picture in front of me, I can then insert the details into their assigned spaces.  I also realize that I learn a bit differently than most of the rest of the world, and I know that that’s not necessarily “wrong” or a “bad” thing.

Because the important part is, in the end, I do learn.  And if I can commit it to memory properly (having properly eaten, slept, and remained under low stress at the time of learning), then I do retain the information, often for many years (or even decades).

Sometimes I still struggle, though.  🙂


(Image Credit: Giardinaggio)


  1. I can so relate to this! I thought I was a big picture person too but have realised I get stuck on the small details, can also relate to your analogy about needing grounding. You’ve given me food for thought – thanks 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That makes sense! As a matter of interest, did you struggle to write enough words for essays etc or to cut them down? All mine, including undergraduate writing read like a summary – I didn’t get why all the seemingly superfluous details needed to go in too. Needless to say, I didn’t do too well in my essays…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Usually I struggled to cut them down, but that was when writing about something I was interested in. A few times, I did have trouble composing enough words 🙂


  3. My own, on going struggle is not writing the nicely divided, sub- divided and sub-sub-devised parts of my essays, but be able to see my own work as a whole. No chance…
    I love my sentences, maybe linking into previous and next sentences, or to any other sentences all over the place, but not even my paragraphs are a unity. I was, and still am lucky that most of my professors saw the “genial” ideas, and after having decided that “oh, him again with the really high-fly ideas” usually learned to evaluate based on the many, many individually isolated ideas. You know, like a “soup” with all the awesome ingredients, but boiled separately, and put together in a separately boiled pot of water. All details perfects, but that’s still not a soup…
    I can explain a Big Picture by explaining the semantic values of Big and the semantic value of Picture, but that’s about it😇

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much SW 🙂
        That’s why after desperate attempts to write narratives such as short novels, I gave up and returned to my first love, rhythm and rhyme, metaphoreless, just a flow of coherent idea-sentences, valuable within themselves, with no link to each other than their rhythm and rhyme.
        In the end, my poetry might be just right for a detail loving chemist or micro-biologist, or even linguist, but rarely for a poetry lover.
        Well, scientists might deserve some poets too, isn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sure! And here’s another wrinkle…what if you’re both? (I’m a scientist by day, a poetry writer by night). And FWIW, I completely follow your train(s) of thought 😉


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