What It's Like to Struggle With Short-Term Memory


One thing to know about me is that I really struggle with short-term memory. When it comes to remembering where I’ve put something, or just everyday little things in general, I’m not very good. I’m frequently losing things. I also really struggle with recalling information. When someone asks me, “What have you done this past week?” or even “What have you done today?” I often won’t know the answer. It’s not that I have no memory of what I did the past week; I just struggle to recall the information.

The memories are there in my mind somewhere, but I‘ve got so much information in my mind that I struggle to simply recall a particular thing I’ve done in the past week. I even struggle to recall the dates and times of my upcoming talks. Sometimes people will ask me when my next speech is and I honestly don’t have a clue what the answer is. This is an extremely embarrassing moment, which I frequently have to face in my day-to-day life. In a lot of ways, I struggle to remember things others take for granted.

As is often the case with autism, I make up for this lack of a memory in other ways. There are other ways in which my memory is extremely good. I have a good memory for years. I can remember the year in which a lot of events in my past happened. I also have a great memory for people’s ages. There have been people who I haven’t seen in years, but I’ll know how old they are just because I remember how old they were when I last saw them. Sometimes this good memory can even creep people out. For example, there is an autistic singer, Scott James, who was on “The X-Factor” in 2009. I met him in person in 2014 and I told him I knew he was diagnosed at the age of 13. When I told him this, for a brief moment he seemed shocked and thought I might have been stalking him. But the truth is, I hadn’t been. I just remembered the voice-over guy on “The X-Factor” mentioning that he was diagnosed at 13 and that’s how I remembered. This just goes to show that other people don’t have a memory like mine.

I also have a fairly good memory for facts when it comes to subjects of interest. Those of us with autism will often have obsessive interests in particular subjects, and we can often remember information about these subjects extremely well.

I mentioned earlier that my short-term memory is poor, but this is made up for by my brilliant long-term memory. I can remember past events from years ago (back to when I was a child) vividly. I often see my life’s story as a filmstrip. Past days and past events rarely disappear from my mind, especially if they meant a lot to me. I’m often telling people about things from the past, and everyone is shocked at how I remember it. It’s this long-term memory of mine that has helped me to write my autobiography. Because I have such a good long-term memory, I’ve been able to remember things (even vaguely going back to when I was 3 years old) well enough to write a book. My book is called “Thinking Club: A Filmstrip of My Life as a Person With Autism.”

Now, the question is, is this difference in memory a good thing or a bad thing? Well… I think it really depends on how you look at it. Obviously to struggle with short-term memory and recall can be a really big disadvantage, and believe it or not, having a good long-term memory has its disadvantages, too. Because I have such a good long-term memory, in some ways this can make my anxiety all the worse. I can often remember things from the past extremely well, and this includes both good and bad memories. I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to making mistakes and being misunderstood. There are a lot of things in my life that have made me anxious.

Because of my long-term memory, I can remember past anxieties (even going back 10 years ago, when I was a child) like they were yesterday!

I often get flashbacks to bad experiences, which have made me feel anxious or frustrated, even if they were a long time ago. I’ve never really recovered from some past anxieties, and they still haunt me to this day. A lot of these anxieties are over minor things, too. For example, I may be recalling a time when I was patronized as a child and still feel frustrated when I think about it.

However, despite this rather big disadvantage, my long-term memory isn’t something I’d get rid of if I were given the chance. There may be disadvantages, but there are many advantages to having such a good memory. In my opinion, the advantages outnumber the disadvantages. I honestly like the fact that my memory is unique.

Now, as a person with autism, these are my personal experiences when it comes to memory. Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone with autism. However, from what I see of other people on the spectrum, it seems to be common for autistics to have a poor short-term memory but a really good long term-memory, as well as a great memory for facts (or at least a brilliant memory for facts that are of interest to the individual).

Follow this journey on Alex Lowery.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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