June 23, 2020

When I’m holding a thought in my mind, and I’m about to act on it soon, the place where it lives is called “working memory.”

For me, it’s a very small place. My working memory can hold one or two thoughts with intense focus and attention, but if I try to hold three or four at the same time, they all drop like juggling pins.

What do I mean by “thoughts,” in this context? Names in a story, steps to complete a task, pros and cons for making a decision, options to choose from – anything that needs to stay in my awareness to understand what’s happening, or about to happen.

How do I hold onto such thoughts, when my working memory runs out of room? I write them down, then keep them in view.

Even in the middle of a conversation, I’m often taking notes. It makes me a better listener – not compared to others, but compared to myself without notes – because I can temporarily set aside my own questions and comments without fear of forgetting them.

I still tend to flinch away from complexity. But when I remember to write down my thoughts, it feels like going into battle with sufficient armor to handle the fight.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.