The Filmographic, not Photographic Memory
First of all, I want to redefine the terminology. It is more correct to say that the aspie has a filmographic rather than photographic memory. This means that the memory is more like watching a film than recounting items in a picture.
I'm not convinced that an aspie would do especially well in those psychological tests where they remove objects behind a screen. In fact, because we're talking about short term memory there, I think an aspie would do considerably worse.
What Aspies can't easily Remember
The aspie has trouble with short-term memory and with non-visual memory. In particular, the aspie has trouble remembering the things that people tend to tell them in mid-conversation.
- Dates and Times of Events
- Shopping Lists
- Specific Lists of Items (eg: Periodic Table)
Of course, any lists associated with special interests seem quite easy to learn.
The Mysterious Disappearing Short-Term Memory
Things that seem to be in the aspie's memory have a way of disappearing suddenly until they make it to long term memory. Quite frequently (more than usual as I get older), my words are disappearing mid-sentence and I have to say - "nope, sorry ... it's gone". It's quite embarrassing.
It's not age though (I'm 38), this has happened throughout my life. In particular at school, I remember losing teachers names. I'd always be too embarrassed to tell the teacher that I had no idea of their name, so I'd keep quiet in the hope that I'd catch it at some point.
My eldest son (7) is in first class. He knew his teacher's name before he started first term because we drilled it into him. He knew her name for the first few weeks. Then, suddenly he lost it and had to ask her on several occasions what her name was. Luckily now, he seems to have got it again.
I'm not sure if this phenomena is associated only with names and lists or whether it applies to other types of learning, such as pencil grip, letter writing and swimming. There are signs that it could be (my son will get his letters and numbers perfect for a while but then will slip back into writing things backward). Sometimes he forgets how to write his name too.
I'll have to have a rethink before I can confirm either way.
Recording and Playback
This is where the aspie memory really comes into its own...
During activities, even those where the aspie doesn't appear to be concentrating, they're taking everything in. Not just words, but expressions, feelings, touch, temperature, the whole lot. Those memories are then easily accessible and can be played back "in the aspie's head".
At university I used to sit in lectures and draw pictures instead of taking notes. People used to ask to borrow my notes only to discover that I didn't have any - well, not notes that they could understand at any rate. The funny thing was, that when I got to an exam, all I had to do was to think of the drawing and it would bring the whole lecture back. I could look at (or just remember) certain parts of the drawing and this would open up the memory of what the lecturer was covering at the time.
I did very well in University and got a few High Distinctions, so obviously the method worked. Of course, by that that stage I was old enough to have a pretty good handle on how my memory worked. It wasn't quite so easy in school.
How young does it start?
Well strangely enough it starts in the pre-talking years. I know this for two reasons, firstly because I have some vague memories of my own babyhood and secondly (more importantly) we had an incident with my son which proved the point.
When you're a new parent with a child below talking age, you have a lot of one-sided conversations where you talk "AT" your child in the hope that they will retain some information and explanations. I had quite a few such conversations with Kaelan (my eldest).
Looking at him immediately afterwards, I thought he hadn't taken anything in. For a start, he didn't seem to remember objects (eg: didn't know where to point when I asked "Where is the Television?") after a long conversation about it.
Imagine my surprise when more than a year later, when he had developed enough language skills to talk; he repeated our conversation almost verbatim.
I could go on about memory, but this post is getting long. In a future post, I'll cover ways in which aspies can use their memory. What works for me to get things into long-term storage and how aspies can become convincing liars or cover up emotional sore-points by planting false memories on top of true ones.