autism

What Did I Need to Remember?

As I crossed the threshold from the bustle and controlled chaos of the hallway, and my right foot touched the carpet of my Analytical Geometry classroom, a sharp sensation shot up my spine and nestled into my neck and shoulders. It was a familiar feeling. I knew exactly what it meant. I was about to remember something important about this class.

I was supposed to do page 156, odd numbered problems 1-19. It was another assignment for which I would receive half-credit or nothing — more likely nothing. There was little chance I would remember to do the makeup work once I left the room. I had a D in Analytical Geometry, not because the subject was difficult (nothing could be further from the truth), but because I was missing grades for most of my assignments.

Chances are, similar triggers would occur with each class I entered that day. Assignment notebooks were useless. I’d fill the pages out and forget to look at my notes later. As soon as I walked out of school, most things that happened that day simply disappeared from my mind. The next day, memories would flood back of various tasks and assignments I forgot to complete.

In school, Student Resource Time (SRT), became my salvation once we switched to block scheduling. As long as nothing interfered with my SRT time, I could remember to check on my schoolwork there. Slowly, i was able to broaden the context of my memory to include the entire school building ­ not just the specific classrooms in which the assignment originated. College was less difficult because there was enough downtime on campus for me to work on my work in a school setting. As long as I was on campus, I could remember to do my work.

I was accused of being lazy, of only remembering what I wanted. How could I consistently remember the specifications of the Enterprise NC1701-D or the order in which Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote his musicals, but I couldn’t remember something simple like homework? The question baffled me. Truth be told, it still does. I’m always walking into work and feeling that old, familiar sensation of an important memory itching to suddenly resurface.

Contextual memory and the retrieval thereof is a challenge of autism with which I still contend. One solution I’ve found is to email myself things I need to accomplish. At home, I’ll inevitably spend some time on the computer, at which time I’ll see a message from myself about something I need to finish for work the next day. Also, I do a great deal of work-related stuff on my personal computer (a late-2006 MacBook Pro), thereby giving the machine a dual context.

Regardless, I find the workings of my memory a challenge that I haven’t quite figured out yet. I’ll let you know when I do.

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