Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Monday, April 19, 2010

Autobiographical (Episodic) Memory

Wow, this is such an exciting idea to play with and I'm thrilled to share it!  The title of the class I attended was "Make It Stick" and the goal was to share ideas for making the social teaching that parents/educators do intentionally for autistic kids (and other kids often pick up on their own) stick. 

The presenter started the class by passing around an old change purse and encouraging people to discuss it with their neighbor for a minute.  Not surprisingly, our conversation was fairly limited to descriptors and function.  Then, she shared that the purse was given to her by her grandmother who was the only person in her entire family who thought that her plan to tour Europe alone was OK.  Thus, the purse symbolized to her that another's belief in her helped her believe in herself.

The key to autobiographical / episodic memory is building those stories of self into a web that supports a person making the statement, "I'm a person who..."  Often, overcoming hardships can lead to a statement, "I'm a person who can overcome difficulties."  One of the participants reported escaping from his native country alone, at the age of 14.  When he got to America, he had persevered through so many challenges, he said, "There was no stopping me."  Children have smaller accomplishments, but they can be just as personally significant and, when focused upon, can provide the foundation for autobiographical (episodic) memory.  So, the key is taking these episodes in a child's life, pointing out the critical aspect of success, and helping them build a web of memories that support a positive self evaluation.

Some key tools in supporting these positive evaluations:

  1. Help the child to clearly understand what is intended to be remembered
  2. Think about how the child learns best (visual, tactile, auditory)
  3. Point out critical issues (kids will often miss this): how they solved a problem, resources they used, observational skills, environmental cues... identify what made a given situation successful.  
  4. Emotions must be involved to cement this kind of memory (the parental goal, in this situation, is to look at the positive spin and, even with a negative outcome, point out what they did well.)  
  5. Use a label or an object to attach the memory: " It's a record!", "best lightbulb changer prize", souvenirs, photo, journal, anything to represent the success or a key moment can help with that cementing process.
  6. Preview/Review: preview situations beforehand when possible so they know what is coming and review them afterwards to highlight what was successful. Remember to place a positive spin on that critical element.
  7. Eventually create a web of related memory to develop a positive sense of self. Categories can help, such as: My winning strategies. What works with friends.  Adventures with family.

And... the idea I'm most excited about is helping this process along with a Wall of Fame!  I might not call it that, maybe something like Growing Successes or Challenge Choo Choo (he does love trains).  Anyway, the idea that thinking about this class tweaked for me is creating a bulletin board with a title theme that I change each month and that highlights an area of success. I want to really focuses on building these autobiographical memories, these episodes of self definition, into a positive web.  

So, for example, I have lots of pictures of hiking with my son.  There are ones of him in the back pack.  There's the one of the first time he walked on his own and we made it a grand total of a few hundred feet because he was so fascinated with all the aspects of the forest.  Yesterday, we hiked seven miles together and he learned that jumping into a glacial stream isn't wise (but, not to diminish that learning about reality which is also a parenting goal,)  the hike itself was an intense accomplishment for a six year old which would be a great picture to add to the board!  I am so excited about creating these and pointing out that wealth of positive moments that he can integrate.

How wonderful and positive and joyous to focus on these aspects of success and help him build that web of memories that help him say of himself, "I am a person who tries hard, improves skills, overcomes challenges."  I am once again impressed with how many of the skills I learn to address my son's autism challenges are generalizable to parenting of any child.  If you like this idea, I am intrigued to hear in the comments what techniques you have found to help children grow a positive view of themselves.



  1. I actually got some good milage personally out of an idea I got from Jean Moroney called "Three Good Things" details here:

    So based on that I had an idea that I've neglected to keep up with. I introduced a notebook to my oldest daughter (Allison is 5) and called it her "Hero Book." In the Hero Book she could tell any story about when she was a hero, either drawing a picture or writing the words or even having Daddy write some of the words.

    And being a hero in this case is achieving values. Be it building something out of blocks. Discovering a new playground and slide. Basically anything good that happened that day.

    I'm sorry to say we only made about 4 or 5 entries. Though she did seem to enjoy recounting her heroic adventures, so I think it's something I may reminder her about tonight.


  2. Kevin: Wow, we use the same "Three Good Things" idea to start every day as a family. Each member says three good things that happened from the day before and one thing they're looking forward to today. (My husband gets home too late to have a family dinner.) It can be quite illuminating what my son picks!

    The "hero book" sounds like a lovely way to celebrate what makes her feel special and efficacious. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. I love, love, love this idea! I will start making a proud moments book (not sure what to call it yet) TODAY!
    Related technique: I recently made my first official movie. I downloaded a bunch of home video clips to the computer, edited them simply, and added a title. Now we can watch "Daddy and Johnny Practice Baseball", which shows some strikes, a nice hit, encouraging and teaching comments, and ends on a perfect catch. The whole project took about an hour using software that came with the computer. Our son has just discovered the power of practice/persistence, and this is one way to celebrate and solidify that.

  4. Anonymous: Good timing, I just posted on my first changing of the board!
    Your video sounds wonderful! I'm trying to get clips of my son's playgroup since I've heard so much about video modeling helping kids learn new behaviors. I also wrote about our practice of a movie freeze game early on in the blog which might be fun for you too! Thanks for the comment :)