Memory as a critical domain in autism intervention is overlooked. It is essential to specifically target this fundamental ability in intervention. Memory is a subservient ability in many common exercises, although we may not always be thinking about it’s role in developing certain basic abilities. Furthermore, while we often think of memory as something linked to the past (recall) it is vital to consider memory abilities when developing future directed activities.
We see this very clearly, for example, in early ‘imitation’ and ‘direction following’ abilities. Success in these abilities rests in part on memory abilities. These early exercises can be exploited to further strengthen memory abilities. As we consider this domain, we need to target both auditory and visual memory. We find often, that by first strengthening visual memory, some common difficulties with auditory memory are ameliorated. Eventually, memory marries “attention” as we consider exercises which demand that children remain on task across longer periods of time and distances, with more distraction (executive function).
Below is an exercise which illustrates how we can design intervention with memory as a specific targeted ability. This exercise is a modified version of an exercise from Early Intervention for Children with ASD: Considerations.
An array of pictures are placed on a table at which the instructor and child are seated. In front of the child is a photo album, which contains, interspersed within the album, corresponding pictures.
The instructor points to one of the pictures on the table and says, “Find this”.
“The child flips through the album to find the corresponding picture, points to it and says, “I found it” or “Here it is” (or makes some other appropriate statement).
The point (no pun intended) of this exercise is several-fold. First, it requires that the child attend (jointly) to the item to which the teacher is attending. The child will not be able to find the designated item without following the instructor’s point (ie., there was no specific linguistic referent offered). The instructor is the ‘point of reference,’ and only by attending carefully to the instructor, to that which the instructor attends, can the child succeed. Second, as matched items are buried deeper into the album, the child is required to hold in mind (working visual memory), for longer periods of time, that which they are required to find. Demands on memory, attention to task and to others can be systematically increased by pointing to two pictures and say “Find this and this”.
This is only one exercise of many which need to be considered when building memory abilities. It is just one example. We can't ask a child to go look for something across a room if they can't find it in a book right in front of him. I won't ask a child to find two things in back of the book if he can't find one that is only 3 pages in. This requires systematic training which is systematically stretched to real world applications.
Additional sample exercises from our book can be found on the TOC sample exercise page on this site.