Autism and Memories: A Problem of Hashtags?

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

How was your day? What happened at the meeting with your boss? What did your doctor say? How is your mother doing?

In conversations with the individual on the autism spectrum, the answers to these questions may be "I don't know," "I don't remember," or "Fine." While we often expect these responses from our teenagers, these consistently empty responses feel confusing. "Do you not want to talk to me?" or "Do you not remember what happened today?"

The same ASD individual who can't summarize the highlights of his day, can often tell you an abundance of detail about his special interest and favorite hobbies. He may forget that his daughter-in-law had emergency surgery last year, and yet he may discuss multiple details about the stock market exchange for that day. Why is there an absence of recall about "people" events when there is excellent recall of "topic facts."

My theory is that the brain of the autistic individual assigns meaning to information incorrectly. Neurotypical individuals tag information as meaningful and important versus trivial and not impactful --- #important #notimportant.

This hashtag system helps us group things into categories. When someone asks what the doctor told us, we have two points that have been tagged as #important: 1) My blood sugars are looking better on my new medicine and 2) I can reduce my blood pressure medication by 5mg. We have other information tagged as #unimportant: 1) The doctor was running 10 minutes late because the school called with a question about her child's schedule and 2) The doctor was wearing a red blazer.

When you ask someone what the doctor told you, that person's brain should search for the hashtag #important. For the autistic individual, there seems to be a problem assigning those hashtags correctly. In some cases, the unimportant things have the hashtag #important and vice versa. Other times, the memories all seem to hang in a jumble of un-tagged data. The individual seems to be at a loss as to what the "highlights" of the discussion with his doctor were. He seems to spend time thinking of what you possibly might want to know, but there is no efficient "sifting" through his mind's data to realize what should be communicated.

This means that the "memory" parts of the brain are working, but the parts that assign meaning are not working efficiently.

#autism #adultautism

48 views0 comments

©2021 by Theresa Regan