“If the brain does not, from the start, automatically identify and store the basic information, it can seriously hinder the capacity to interact, communicate and solve problems” (APA, 2006). It can be overwhelming for children with autism because of the complex information in our daily lives.
Memory problems can affect behaviour. For typical people, it happens automatically for us to notice and attend to what’s important and relevant. However, children with autism focus on details instead and they may not recall or respond to what most people think is important.
Children with autism are often visual learners. Visual information lasts longer and is more concrete than spoken and heard information. This might help children with autism to process the information presented and choose how to respond (Wang, 2013).
Procedural memory is a form of long-term memory.
Procedural memory can be strengthened by having visual aids, visual reminders, symbols or words. Take pictures that represent the important part of an event or task and ask your child to put in order the pictures the way the task should be completed. One of the most common visual supports is a visual schedule/picture schedule. This is a set of pictures that show activities or steps in specific activities. For example, a visual schedule can show all the activities in a single day, or all the steps involved in a specific activity like eating a meal.
Placing visual reminders around your house (e.g. Wash hands after using the toilet). If your child is able to read, you may place written words.
Keep It Simple
Simple concepts are much easier to remember as compared to the complex ones.
By breaking down the large ideas such as lessons, tasks or stories into smaller chunks, that can be easily encoded into long-term memory. For example, teaching math calculations, break it down into smaller steps. Focus on one skill at a time and try not to apply to a real-life problem-solving scenario at the same time. (Don’t: give a string of instructions, like “Go put your toys away, then put the bike back in the garage, wash your hands and let your sister know it’s time for dinner.”)
Do: Try focusing on one task at a time: “It’s dinner soon, keep your toys.”
Rote Memory Skill
Some children with autism have strong rote memory abilities. They are able to remember large chunks of information such as number plates, words to a song, conversations from movies and so on.
Encourage your child to use rote memory for learning useful information, like alphabets, multiplication table, phone number, address.
Routines can be helpful to improve the memory of children with autism.. A schedule with words, symbols or pictures is an easy way to develop procedural memory for people of all ages. Develop a daily schedule with pictures of the task (e.g. 7am wake up, brush teeth, use toilet, shower, 8am school, 10am breakfast and so on.) Place the picture schedule on the fridge or at his/her bedroom and present it to them before bedtime, after they wake up to remind them of today’s schedule.
Repetition helps to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory. For children with autism, using stories and asking the child to tell the story back to you or asking him/her to recall specific events in the story also helps to strengthen that muscle. Working-memory capacity could improve through practice--suggesting that those with working-memory problems could improve their capacities through repetition.
Generally, people are more likely to forget things if their home is cluttered and in a mess (Mayo Clinic, 2021). Keep your house organized and put back the things into the correct places after use. (e.g. placing utensils in the utensils drawer after washing and drying them.) This way you can help your child with autism to remember where it is placed at.
It takes time to build effective habits, and distractions happen. Don’t expect your child to get it right away. Offering reminders, help and encouraging your child’s efforts to stay on course will help him stick with the routine until it sinks in.
Written by Carabelle.
American Psychological Association. (2006, January 16). Children with autism found to have specific memory problems that may underlie aspects of disorder [Press release]. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/01/autism
Hutten, M. (2008). Autistic Children and the Benefits of Visual Schedules. Education & Support for Parents of Children & Teens on the Autism Spectrum. https://www.myaspergerschild.com/2008/11/autism-schedules.html
Google. (n.d.). [Autistic children: learning strengths | Raising Children Network]. Retrieved March 10 2020, from https://images.app.goo.gl/8PHfA1v5Gki7HigH6
Mastin, L. (2010). Types of memory. The Human Memory. http://www.lukemastin.com/humanmemory/types.html
Mayo Clinic. (2021, March 10) Memory loss: 7 tips to improve your memory.
Wang, K. (2013, March 21). 11 ways to strengthen memory in a child with special needs. Friendship Circle. https://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/03/21/11-ways-to-strengthen-memory-in-a-child-with-special-needs/