In this essay, Megan Amodeo gives us great insights into autism memory. You’ll be fascinated with her descriptions of how her mind works to recall memories “like flipping through pages in a book.”
If you take a picture, it theoretically lasts forever. We all take pictures with our minds and place them in our memories for safe keeping. Some people have fantastic memory skills, some have less than outstanding memory skills.
For many of us on the spectrum, amazing memory abilities seem to be second nature. I am sure you have heard stories about autistic individuals who remember every line of their favorite movie, or every type of train model ever produced. These people effortlessly recite their monologues without any hesitation.
While it is true that some autistics possess seemingly impossible memory skills, not everyone on the spectrum has memory skills to this degree. However, many of us have a knack for remembering more details than our typical counterparts. I am not saying that non-autistic people do not have good memory skills, just different skills. For example, my youngest daughter has a great memory for commercials. She can remember seemingly useless hours of television commercials. My oldest daughter can remember very detailed conversations (not always an awesome skill). My daughter remembers almost everything I utter on a daily basis in her presence. Think about this moms out there, how many times have you said something out loud you probably should have kept quiet? Yep, she remembers EVERYTHING!
Stupendous memory skills can be a curse and a blessing. They come in handy for passwords. I can remember gazillions of passwords most people need to write down. My husband loves my memory when he cannot find a password at work, just one text or phone call and he has his password.
The curse part rears its ugly head when you want to forget something, but you are not able to blot it out. Arguments, bad job interviews, embarrassing moments, they all take up space in my memory bank. I do not have a photographic memory. I just remember tons of stuff (for lack of a better term). I used to think, or maybe I assumed that, everyone had the same capacity for memories that I had utilized my entire life. I could recall events with ease. Doesn’t everyone?
I realized in my mid-thirties that everyone does not possess this type of memory. It happened when I had a minor disagreement with my husband. It was just an ordinary run of the mill argument about something he said (10 years previous). I remember pleading with him to remember his exact words (I mean really, who can’t recall a conversation he had 10 years ago?). He insisted, to my dismay, that he had no idea what I was talking about. It wasn’t until I described every teeny tiny detail (what I wore, what he wore, the time of day, where we were sitting) that my husband said no one has that kind of memory. That was the first time I realized I had a decent memory (I thought I was some sort of freak for a while).
I realized that I, like many other autistic individuals, remember most of what I see in a kind of picture or movie format. Let me explain, I can recall events that happened yesterday or five years ago by flipping through pages of a book in my brain. That is how I remember things. By placing a picture of each event in a book in my memory bank. I see things in scrapbook form in my brain. This way of organizing my memories helps me remember a myriad of events that have occurred in my lifetime. And, at times, this skill can be a neat party trick. I can remember what people were wearing the last time I saw them. I have, on occasion, been accused of keeping notebooks or recordings of all of this information I store in my brain. Trust me, I do not have the time or inclination to record everything I see or hear.
If you have a child with autism, think about all the times he or she remembered events that have slipped from your mind. Having an incredible memory, in my book, is absolutely awesome!