I Have the Short Term Memory of a Goldfish

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot what you came for? Welcome to my life.

My short term memory leaves a lot to be desired. (Although, technically goldfish have a 3 moth memory, so I guess my memory is worse than the memory of a goldfish in some situations.)

Probably one of my most frustrating day to day problems is my lack of short term, or working memory.

My working memory is tricky but my long term memory is amazing. It is strange that I can recall escaping from my crib and jumping in my bouncy swing as an infant, but cannot remember the name of the person I am speaking to on the phone ore more than 3 numbers at a time.

Here is an example of how most phone calls go at the office (part of my job is answering the phone) – “Hello, thank you for calling. How can I help you?” “I would like to speak to Amber.” The voice on the line might say. My reply is something along the lines of, “Let me see if they are available, may I ask who is calling?”

The next part is where it gets tricky for me. The person on the phone will give me 3 things. (I have a hard time remembering more than one or two things at a time, especially names and numbers.) They give me their first name, last name, and what company they work for.

When I have to get up and walk over to someone to let them know about a phone call I try to repeat the information over and over in my head as I walk, praying nobody interrupts me before I get to convey the message.

It is extremely embarrassing when I have to let someone know they have a phone call but I can’t remember who is calling or what company they work for, especially since our office is small and everything is a short walk from my desk.

People in my office don’t know I’m on the spectrum, even some of my closest friends don’t know. I am typically a very private person.

Over the years I’ve learned to adapt to my “faulty” short term memory. I started carrying around notebooks and planners when I was in middle school. As an adult my smart phone has become my secret savior. People have no idea how much I depend on my phone to keep me from forgetting something important.

Here are some of my secrets to success / things I do to compensate for my less than desirable short term memory.

Keep a calendar with me at all times. When I was in middle school I started carrying a pocket sized day planner. As I got older my analogue planner gave way to my phone. Google Calendar keeps my life in order and helps to make sure I don’t forget important obligations such as appointments or when bills are due.

Have something to take notes on with you – always. Make lists of tasks & things you need to remember. Once again, before the mobile smartphone revolution I kept a task list with a pen and paper inside my day planner / calendar. Now I am able to keep a task list in a digital note pad in my phone. If it’s not written down, I probably won’t remember. Sad but true.

Set alarms to help you keep track of time / remember tasks. On your phone or laptop you can set reminders and alarms with text description. If you do not have a smart phone a watch with an alarm can also be helpful, assuming you can remember why the heck you set the alarm in the first place.

Set up a routine. In the morning, when getting ready for work I typically do things in the same order every single time. Being attached to ritual is common with people on the spectrum, but I know why I am attached to my routine – if I do things out of order I am very likely to forget to do something important like feed the dogs or brush my teeth.

Be aware of your weaknesses and look for ways to make them less intrusive. I have a hard time remembering when I have put clothes in the wash, so I have created a clever way to remind myself to go back into the laundry room. I leave the light on. When I walk by the laundry room and see the light on I am compelled to go into the room and shut off the light, but entering the laundry room also reminds me about the clothes. Post-it notes and visual cues are very helpful around the house.



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