let me rephrase that, part three

One of the first things you learn when trying to speak to kids with cognitive disabilities is not to fill in the pause after you speak to them with a rephrase of what you just said. Autistic kids often take slightly longer than usual to respond to spoken communication, and waiting a few seconds can really help the conversation.. but it’s almost impossible not to try to fill in that pause with a rephrase (which makes things worse, it feels like a different thing for them to parse).

Here’s an experiment you can do, next time somebody says something to get your attention, pretend you haven’t heard. Within a few seconds the person trying to talk to you will rephrase, they won’t ask you the same thing with the exact same words.

Oh and don’t do this too often, it’s very irritating. And now that I’ve said this, you’ll notice yourself and other folks rephrasing a hundred times a day.

Rephrasing is the polite thing to do, it feels aggressive to use the exact same words when you repeat.

Rephrasing is the usual style in most writing, particularly ‘entertainment’ writing, but it’s not a good way to communicate when speed, clarity or accuracy is the goal – for instance in instructions or interfaces.

But it’s worse than that, and I tried to lead in to this with the two tunes, it’s not just in speech that the rephrasing problem occurs. My point is that we ‘rephrase’ everything, and that rephrasing is seldom an improvement on the original, the desire to embellish, add some thing extra, smooth out a texture… there are a hundred ways to do this and with the best intentions too.

My idea here is that ‘rephrasing’ is a different thing from improving, or even redesigning and I’m interested in how we work out when we are doing it.

Erm, does that make sense?


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