Sometimes I think that I have a memory like no other. I can remember the day that Leslie K. stapled her finger to the calendar board when we were 4 and in Pre-K. I can remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Wheelis, climbing through the window after lunch when she was late returning to class. I can even remember Air Supply playing on the radio when my parents drove my sister and I to see our new house. I was 4 then.
I remember strange things. Specific things. The order in which things happened and how they came to be. I used to have a game that I would play…my parents loathed it but for some reason I loved it. Twenty minutes into a conversation I would stop everyone and say “do you want to know how we got here?”…and then I would proceed to relate the entire sequence of the conversation and how one subject transitioned into the other.
This game often came to mind as I began to study memory in both of my graduate programs. How we store memories. What the difference is between Long Term Memory and Short Term Memory. What Working Memory is.
In my practice I get to see children access their Working Memory daily. Our Working Memory is like a mental sticky note that we use to keep track of information until we need it. But Working Memory isn’t just stored to be used later…rather it allows us to hold information without losing track of what we’re currently doing. It’s fascinating to see a three year old child come for an appointment week after week and watch him learn the routine. Learn the familiar faces. Know exactly what to do without having to prompt him to do so.
Every appointment at my clinic begins with a child coming into the clinic, sitting down in the “socks and shoes” area and removing his or her socks and shoes before he or she goes to play. Once this happens, every child passes by my office and says hello. It’s part of the routine; the sequence of events. Before they enter the gym, they must complete these 2 steps. Some children catch on, no problem. Two to three sessions and they know the drill; they walk into the clinic and immediately sit down without being prompted.
Others experience difficulty. Sequencing events and utilizing their Working Memory is difficult for them. They are unable to listen to the 2-3 step sequence, and hold in their memory what they need to do for Step 2 after completing Step 1, while simultaneously completing Step 1. They require prompting every time they come to a session. And the prompting typically needs to be one step at a time.
As I’m talking about this I realize that the game I used to play was really a way that I was unknowingly strengthening my Working Memory. I was holding on to the memory of the first part of the conversation as we were continuing on to the sixth or seventh part of the conversation. Who knew this game that my parents loathed would carry over into my future career and help me help others. 🙂