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

Posted Sep 08 2010 9:15pm
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.
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