Thursday, 10 March 2016

Mysteries of memories

"I can't find my shoes, where are they, where are they?" screams Anthony as he races through the house. Anthony needs to be reminded to put his shoes in the hall when he takes them off. He can never remember where else they might be and has huge difficulty actually seeing them even when in plain sight. It's like directing a blind folded person to an object on the floor sometimes.

He can't remember where his shoes are, or his reading book, or his favourite toy or the remote control (that is actually still in his hand).

Part of the time I think this is more difficult for him because of his ADHD, and then other times I'm surprised by his memory.

For anything to be remembered for more than a few seconds or minutes (for it to be turned from a short term memory into a long term memory) it needs to be encoded in our brain. What you experience is broken down into component parts and stored for recall later.

If you can't remember something it means it's either not been stored to start with or you are having trouble recalling it. For example instead of recalling a memory from blank you may recall through recognition. This could be remembering which way to go because you recognise a route or spotting an answer on a multiple choice test. You may also remember through relearning, so suddenly remembering how to set the TV box to record once you have been shown again.

The more you access memories or relive them the stronger they are and easier it is for your mind to recall them.  Your mind brings together the same components that make it up. If you have a strong emotional attachment to the memory it's also easier for you to recall.

Anthony gives up looking for things almost immediately and the same goes for recalling information. We have to summarise the previous parts of his bedtime stories most nights.  I think part of this is he's not really paying attention and encoding the memory in the first place. But I was surprised to hear the other day that he remembered some things from years ago very well.

Anthony is nearly eight years old so it was easily half his life ago that he went to nursery. He came out with this information the other day after being collected from school. We were talking about his younger sister maybe going to the same school next year after she had finished nursery. He was able to tell me:

  • That he went to a different nursery to Jane
  • He went there early in the morning before I went to work
  • He had breakfast there, Weetabix a lot of the time
  • It wasn't very far from our old house and was near to where his grandparents now live
  • There was a boy there named Henry
  • That David, his younger brother, also went there for some of the time 
Along with a few other facts (ha, that I've since forgotten). Admittedly I was quite impressed by these memories. Anthony attended the nursery for about two years, but it's fair to say that as a child with ASD he wasn't talking very much and appeared to shy away from and not interact with the world around him a lot of the time. 

I've seen several studies that look at the differences in the way children with autism learn and what happens in their brain while they are taught how to do a simple task, for example maybe learning a sequence to open a box. Children with autism often appear to take in a lot of the information each time they are shown the task and it has been suggested that this is because it's not being stored quickly. I wonder though if they may be able to remember how to open the box years later?  I don't know how my son's mind works differently but I think what he can do sometimes is amazing. 

It won't be long before it's time for me to collect him from school today. Here, he appears to be unable to tell me what he has done at school at all. Most parents would say the same thing but I honestly think Anthony can't recall what he did just five minutes before I arrived. At least we can help him by reminding him to put things back so he doesn't have to panic when he can't find his shoes again. And we can try to 'jog' his memory using the recognising and relearning methods. It's something we all probably practice. In a few minutes I'll wander round the house trying to remember what I did when I came in earlier, so I can find my car keys.

Do you have difficulty remembering things or have you been surprised by something well remembered recently?


autism and puzzles of the mind

You Baby Me Mummy



  1. I have a very strange memory, some things I remember so vividly, some things I THINK I remember when in fact I don't and some things I can not remember how hard I try. Memory is an incredible thing. Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub lovely x

  2. My memory is getting worse all the time! Baby brain I think :) Thanks for linking up to #TheList x


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