Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Aspies Remember some things Perfectly and completely forget other things.

My memory is faulty, there's no doubt about it. On the one hand, it seems amazing. I can remember "whole conversations" which took place years ago, I can quote from literally thousands of films but ask me what someone's name is or ask me to get some things from the shops and I'll draw a blank.

In fact, face to face conversations with me at work quite often involve me subconsciously using my hands to do gestures of long hair, or glasses simply because I've forgotten the person I'm trying to describe. It's also a common sight at our local shops to see me standing around counting my fingers. I know that I've got to get five things at the shop but I can only remember three of them.

I think that a lot of my memory is based on repetition. That's no revelation really, rote learning has been around for years and despite the claims that rote learning provides only lists, not concepts, it's still recognised as one of the most effective learning tools.

Aspie Rote Learning in Action
As an aspie, I know that the true meaning of conversations eludes me most of the time. I often use the time after I've exited a conversation to analyse its meaning. I'll go over the words several times looking for inflections, trying to remember facial expressions and hand movements. It's all in there (my head) somewhere but during conversation it all goes too fast for me to pick up on it.

Sadly those moments after the other participants in the conversation have left are full of "ah-ha" and "oops" moments when I suddenly realise what's really been said. When I'm tired, I retire to my office rather than face a room full of people with diverse and complex social behaviours. In fact, it's only been about an hour since I said (half-seriously) "It's getting a bit too social in here for me" and exited the lunch room.

Back to the point ... Going over the same conversation several times, particularly in the same order, is rote learning. In analysing it, I'm subconsciously committing it to memory. It's not the whole conversation, but I'll later revisit it and think that it was. When I repeat the bits I remember, most people who were also present will think that I've captured the conversation in its entirety. In reality, I've done my own internal editing.

Of course, not all conversations have a hidden meaning. For example the meaning of; "Hello Gavin, this is John, he'll be working in Finance so can you give him a login" is clear. I don't go over the conversation multiple times and as a result, I don't learn John's name.

Special Interests
Then there's the rote learning of movie quotes. I love movies and I'll often watch the same film over and over again. I'll often repeat things that the characters say, because they're funny, they're cool or sometimes those words or accents feel good on my tongue. Sometimes I'm even analysing scenes for more information. Either way, it's rote learning again.

When I'm configuring computers, I'm so particular about getting the product keys and WEP keys right that I read them back and forth on my computer and in the documentation - even if I'm 99% certain, I'll still re-check. The repetition makes it rote learning again.

It's a pity I can't find a good way to rote learn people's names.


evedwards said...

I am in the same footsteps.

I tend to forget my friend's nicknames quite easily and stuff, yet, I remember certain conversations and stuff from years ago!

In Real Life said...

I truly enjoy reading your posts.

My daughter has the same gift for rote memory, and she really enjoys movie quotes as well. Sometimes her impersonation of a character as she does a quote is so perfect it's a little unsettling. She has a gift for picking up on their accents, tone of voice, and little mannerisms.

The Rambling Taoist said...

I remember things, not people. For example, my favorite place in the world was at my maternal grandparent's house. To this day, I can picture each room and most of the objects in these rooms, though I haven't been there in nearly 25 years! However, though I spent so much time with family in that house, in my mind I can't see any people.

That said, I have the same trouble as you with mental shopping lists. :-)

Laura said...

Fellow Aspie here. You know what I do to help me remember names? I say the person's name back to them when they're introduced.

In response to, "Laura this is, John."

I say, "John, nice to meet you." For me it's about the auditory repetition part. I'll remember it if I've heard more than once. It's not 100% but it works WAY better than not saying it back.


Great post BTW!

Marita said...

You know the more I read your blog the more I wonder if my husband is an Aspie. This is so describing him perfectly.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

I have the same problem with trying to remember all the items I was supposed to get at the store. I always write things down now, because otherwise, I just can't bring them to mind when I'm actually at the store. I think this has to do with the amount of processing I have to do when I'm out and about. When I'm in a store, I'm trying to focus on evading auditory and visual overload, and it leaves me very little processing room for drawing things out of memory. If I have a list, though, I'm fine.

I'm noticing this phenomenon in other areas as well. For instance, I've always thought I've had a very poor sense of direction, but I was walking in the woods the other day and knew exactly where I was the whole time, even though I took byways I don't usually take. The reason I maintained such good spatial orientation is that I was alone: I wasn't talking or trying to process speech, which is such hard work that I can't begin to pay attention to orienting myself in a new place. I think the same is true with memory. It's not that my memory is poor. It's that I can't draw on it very well when I'm busy with more urgent processing tasks.

StatMama said...

Great post, Gavin. I can relate very much with rote memory. I still recall phone numbers and license plate numbers that have not been in use since the mid-1980s. I never tried to keep these in memory, but there they are, nonetheless. I also recall my 5th grade teacher using a lot of rote memory exercises for learning things, particularly the multiplication tables and all of the US presidents - in order. You know, to this day I still recall every single bit of that information while I have forgotten so much else. And how I am teaching my daughter and son in the same way I learned it, because it has been so valuable to me to know that.

Names? I am terrible with names!

M said...

Wow...this definitely applies to me. I can remember something my brother's friend said to him thirty years ago, but I can't remember names, dates, times, years, or where I put the cel phone I just laid down two minutes ago. :)

M said...

Wow...I know this trait very well. I can remember something my brother's friend said to him thirty years ago, yet forget names, dates, years, times, appointments, and where I laid down my cell phone two minutes ago.

Love reading your posts. I have an Asperger's blog, too.

SFlorman said...

Your insights as to why we forget things are helpful. I've known forever that I can never remember the last thing on a list. It doesn't seem to matter how long the list is; I forget the last thing. I used to lead a team of 10 salespeople, and if one of them wasn't at a team meeting, I couldn't remember who was missing. I could see nine people there, I certainly knew them all by name and sight, but it wouldn't matter which one was gone, I couldn't figure out who it was.

Genius Moose said...

Sounds so much like me. :-)

Genius Moose said...

Your post sounds so much like me. :-)

Anonymous said...

I have Aspergers; I've only ever found one trick to remember names. It doesn't work in all environments. If I tap my finger on a table 3 times and repeat their name once I can usually remember it. If I forget it - I can usually tap on the table again and remember it. Eventually you simply remember it, as I am sure you're well aware. Obviously it doesn't have to be tapping - it just has to be assigned some physical action.

bob's bs said...

Same idea with Klinefelter Syndrome. Late last year, I'd attended a training class for work; that session lasted three weeks. As a lecture would commence, I tried to keep up with note-taking, but got more and more behind. This was a month before my KS diagnosis. After the diagnosis, I was again away for another two weeks; this time, I did not take notes, and retained more information. The difference? Trying to comprehend what was being said AS it was being said. Just listening was the key. Though I can walk and chew gum at the same time, don't talk to me while I'm busy doing something else. Of course, trying to explain this to others is difficult, until one explains it this way: "I have verbal disabilities." "But you seem to talk quite well." "Yes, but there are two sides to verbal communication. You hear me speaking, but I'll only hear half of what you say." Explain that it's not that what they're saying isn't important; just don't try to comprehend it in that moment. Works wonders for me.

Aliadelaide said...

I especially liked the first part of your post."I often use the time after I've exited a conversation to analyse its meaning. I'll go over the words several times looking for inflections, trying to remember facial expressions and hand movements. It's all in there (my head) somewhere but during conversation it all goes too fast for me to pick up on it."
While my 14yo ticks the boxes with all the memory things you mentioned like movie quotes, he often needs time to 'digest" what people are saying before he feels confident to respond. And this reflection may take anything from a few moments to several days...which can make dialogue with a NT rather precarious at times!Anyway all this to say its helpful to know he's not alone in this.

Anonymous said...

I can remember the name of every bone in the body. I can remember very long lists of information down to the last character. But, I cannot remember dates, and upcoming actions that happen on specific days or dates. It is too hard to understand why I have such wide swaths of memory completely broken, but other parts of my memory are so vastly filled with data I don't even try to put there. My brain is broken, but I manage to get by, albeit with saddness that I am not normal.

Daniel Brady said...

Now this is something I can relate to as a fellow Aspie!

I've always been able to remember things like movie quotes, scenes, book passages and other things that relate to my special interests, but when it comes to people's names and other important information, I have a memory like a sieve!

Great blog, by the way. Learnt a few new things about Aspergers that I didn't know before. Thanks!