Notes and Memory
by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, August 2004
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I’ve never been
diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder,
as my son has. But, as my wife will attest, I certainly have
some of the tendencies of both. Okay, more than some.
When we took my son back to college last week, he ran into one
of his lab partners from last year’s class. She was a cheerful
girl who called out, “Hi Drew!”
“Hi Jessica, “ he replied.
“Robin,” she corrected, not unkindly.
“Robin! Right, sorry,” he recovered quickly.
I sympathized. I’ve always had trouble remembering names. It’s
not intentional. Some of us just seem to have a Teflon coating
on the brain shelf where we store names. There are often slick
surfaces on other shelves, too. That’s why some of us get into a
room and can’t remember why we came. Or forget what we intended
to buy at the store. Or drive three hours to college and then
remember some of the key items we intended to bring.
There’s a tool that can help here. I’ve used it for a long time,
but only learned the other day watching the History Channel that
the airline version was developed by Charles Lindbergh. It’s the
Writing out ahead of time what we need to do or take when we
walk out the door can save a lot of grief later. It also takes
some of the pressure off. You don’t have to worry that you’re
forgetting something if you’ve got a list of items to check off.
And writing things down works for other memory-challenged areas
of our brains. I learned in a speed-reading class that taking
notes helps fix things in your memory, even if you don’t look at
the notes again.
In addition to his class notes, I encouraged Drew to keep a
separate notebook as a “logbook.” He can use his logbook to
write down a variety of things he may need later. If you write a
phone number or email address or item you need to buy at the
bookstore on a small piece of paper, it’s easy to lose. If you
put it in your logbook, you may have to search, but you know you
can find it. Calendar and appointment books are great, and some
of them have notes sections you can use for this purpose.
However you keep a logbook, it helps to put a title and date on
each entry to help you find what you’re looking for later. Was
that phone number for the drug store or the dean or something
else? Without a title and date, entries can be useless. Also,
reviewing your logbook once a day helps you catch any items you
wrote down that require action.
You can go overboard. I once had a boss chide me for taking too
detailed notes in meetings. She had a point, but I realized
later that I focused on taking notes to ease my paranoia that I
wouldn’t remember something important. It was a high-pressure
You have to find the balance that works right for you. I still
find that jotting a few notes down while I’m on the phone really
helps me remember things later. I've had experiences where it
seemed obvious I'd remember something when I heard it -- like a
person's name -- only to struggle to recall it a few minutes
later. For someone like my son, I think jotting down names of
other students when he hears them in class, then looking at
these notes at the end of the day can help cement them into his
Many kids are visual learners. I’ve always appreciated picture
directories so I can look people up and reference their names.
It’s something you might consider doing for a child in grade
school. A little drilling with flash cards created from school
pictures and name labels could help break down the social
barrier of not knowing what to call the kids on either side in
the lunch line. It can also be helpful for teachers to have
elementary school kids wear nametags for the first few weeks of
school – particularly during group activities where the kids are
expected to interact.
The key is ingenuity and simplicity. What do you want to
remember – or have your child remember? What simple tools or
habits can you create that will help?
Checklists, notes, directories and nametags are just some of the
options available. But if you find the right tools, they can
serve as rubber gripper strips on those slippery brain shelves.
See anything in this article you think you can use? You may want
to write it down -- before you forget.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of “ASPERGER
SYNDROME: Success in the Mainstream Classroom,” and other
educational videos. You can find more articles on his website
Copyright 2004 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used by
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