Tuesday 7 July 2020

My autistic son and his awesome memory

"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 dvd 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 Sky box to series 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 the movies we watch all time.  It's part of our movie watching process to pause after most major scenes to see if anyone is following it.  I think part of this is he's not really paying attention and encoding the memory in the first place.

But despite this Anthony's memory is absolutely amazing.

One of his obsessions is Formula One, although he also likes F2, GP3 and Formula E (I think I've got those right?). He watches these races so intensely. He's emotionally involved in the happenings too.  He's gutted when things go wrong for his favourite drivers, and shocked and appalled by some of the marshall's decisions.

And then he remembers everything about what's happened.

Who was 2nd in the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix - ask Anthony.

What team was at the top of the Constructors Championship by the 3rd race of the season in 2016?  He'll know.

At which race did Michael Schumacher become world Champion in 2000?  He'll let you know along with who was second and third and by how many points.... and whether he thought that was fair given the how the season had gone.  And that's despite it being eight years before he was even born.

Today, the F1 2020 PS4 game was released - his excitement is off the chart.  He almost cried when the updates downloaded.  And you've guessed it, thanks to some youtubers like TRL Limitless having early access to the game, he's already right into the career mode and can tell you soooo much about the game.  And how it differs to F12019.  He learns so much from gaming and youtube

I've seen several studies that look at the differences in the way children with autism and ADHD 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 simply astonishing. 

Perhaps what is most surprising is he doesn't realise that being able to recall information the way he does is different from what anyone else can do.  Instead he sees what he can't do... he can't find his phone without calling it from another one... he can't find his pencil without asking his sister for help.

These are both strategies that work for him, but he still sees his difficulties and doesn't recognise the skills he does have.  No matter how often we tell him.

Before the Formula One started back up again last weekend, the F1 Sky channel ran a series of quiz's.  Anthony was amazing.  He didn't get them all right but he was pretty close especially for someone who wasn't alive for a good deal of the time periods the questions were on.  He just seemed surprised that everyone didn't know the same answers he did.  It's a bit of theory of mind, that's very common in autistic people.

We'll help him along the way but I'm hoping one day he'll see his talent how we do, and realise that it's ok to have strategies to help you with life. After all, I lose my keys all the time even with the blasted key bowl that sits on top of the microwave. 


  1. I feel the same about my kids particularly my youngest. It is fascinating how much he can remember about the things he is interested in. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time

  2. So interesting, amazing how everyone's brains work so differently :) #KCACOLS

  3. WOW this is fascinating! I am always intrigued as how our minds work. Thanks for sharing this with us at #KCACOLS :-) XX


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