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Shared Memories

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

In Nola’s presentation (February and September ASPIA partner support group meetings) she shares some really interesting things about memory in ASD.


In some of my ponderings this last month I jotted down in my notebook how we don’t develop shared memories with our AS partners.


How many times have you been referring back to an incident or experience where both you and your AS partner were present, and shared the experience at the time (or so you thought), but your recollection and his/her recollection are so completely removed from each other, you feel like your partner is lying or making up a story, or wasn’t even there. Very disconcerting. This aspect alone leads to much conflict in our relationship situations, because if you don’t have a similar memory of the same situation, then how do you build on the experience or use it as a reference point for other points of discussion or decisions? Or even just enjoy the experience of knowing you share a memory that has meaning for you as a couple or family, and that contributes to the relationship or family history in a positive way.


This phenomenon tends to add to the perception that nothing in the relationship is ever resolved, and that we’re never on the same page with our partners about anything.


Nola’s research into memory actually sheds some light on this, reassuring us that it is a valid phenomenon, and that our AS partners are not actually lying, they are presenting aspects of the situation or experience that they do remember, based on the other strong parts of their memory, which usually relate to concrete facts or actions. They tend then to present the memory according to what information they recognised, or that they value, or that they believe they experienced, from their perspective, and sometimes they then construct the rest of the story around that, but it will be a different version to the memory we have of the event, and the meaning we gave it.


Our NT brains tend to fill in all the connections and create a more complex and complete memory of an experience because we are aware at the time, interacting with others, creating meaning as we go and are then able to put it into words in a way that others can generally relate to. That doesn’t mean we don’t forget things ourselves sometimes, or have a different perception of something that took place, but the essence of what I’m writing about is a commonly occurring experience in our relationships.


I did know someone on the spectrum once who was actually able to run off a commentary of a situation, as though he’d memorised it as it happened and had a running commentary going in his head, which he then would share when it came up in discussion. What was missing though was the meaning or interpretation of the situation that most ordinary people would take from the situation, and in its place was an analysis or judgment from his own perspective, which omitted the “general” view that others would have had of the same situation. So he could be relied on to remember all the actions and facts that happened, chronologically (and according to the priority he placed on the information), but his interpretation didn’t do anyone else justice. But, he felt very confident in his memory of the event, and who can argue with facts?


(For Nola’s research and presentation hand-outs see www.nelt.com.au )

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