Imagine a bookshelf that only holds three books. But you have nine books that you need to put on the shelf. Every time you added a book after the first three the next one falls off. You now need to catch that book that has fallen and try and place it back on the shelf as you do the next book falls. This cycle continues throughout the day! Welcome to Forgettory and Neurodiversity
For many neurodivergent individuals, this is the reality of how their short-term memory works.
What this looks like in my life. As I wake up in the morning with a bunch of ideas floating around in my head. As soon as I interact with a member of my family those ideas are gone and replaced with the conversations and requirements of the day. This cycle then continues as I move to the next part of the day be it breakfast, exercise, or work. What seems to happen is a continuous fight to hold on to great ideas, actions, and my place in things. This can be incredibly debilitating as the energy required trying to hold onto the things or books that have fallen from the shelf is immense. What is more frustrating still is that when you put something back on the shelf you are likely to have pushed something else off and the cycle goes on again.
This doesn’t stop here as we need our short-term memory for our working memory to work effectively. So, the more restricted our short-term memory is the more difficult it is to use our working memory effectively to solve problems hold ideas and work with complicated or sometimes not-so-complicated issues.
Both areas of memory are under the concept of executive function (EF). Executive function is a cluster of skills that are necessary for efficient and effective future behaviours. These skills are the ones that sit outside of what we do automatically.
For example, you may have done the following without even thinking about it:
- Got out of bed
- Made a cup of tea
- Checked your phone
- Made your porridge
- Unloaded the dishwasher (not for all of us I know)
Executive function (EF) comes into its own when we attempt to do new things in different situations. These situations don’t always need to be critically complicated just different from what we expect to do on autopilot and can include things like:
- Changing the number of people you are making porridge for
- Meeting someone new for the first time
- Someone giving you a slot car racing toy (Scalextrics) for your children (that’s in pieces with no instructions)
These are my experiences, it is important to note that there is a ground of evidence showing EF is relevant to a number of Neurodivergent conditions including ADHD, ASD/C, developmental coordination disorder DCD (also known as dyspraxia), dyslexia, and dyscalculia.
How these impact
- The actual process of starting can be really challenging when you’re not sure you got everything you need in your memory.
- Reflecting on what you need can sometimes make it even harder to get moving.
- Understanding how long something can take also has a significant impact as it can feel like a complete unknown.
Not being kind to yourself
- Thinking you are good enough.
- Focusing on the negatives.
- Not recognising the things, you do well.
Running out of road
- Knowing that there are things you have forgotten
- Not having enough time to process
- Feeling you have to make decisions even though you’re not ready to
- Trying to be like everyone else
Staying in the zone
- Staying on task
- Moving from one task to another
- Finding it hard to get your head around things
What might happen next
- Sometimes when you run out of road (in terms of processing and EF) it’s hard to think about what might happen next based on previous experience.
- It’s also very challenging to predict what difficulties or challenges you might face in the future.
Being all out of time
- Perception of time can often be linked to what we talked about here.
- This makes it difficult to remember appointments
- Put the right amount of time aside to do stuff
- Break things down into smaller tasks and understand what the time indications are.
What can be done?
The executive function often forms the glue that allows us to deploy our skills effectively. I’ve talked before about the fact we need to help neurodivergent individuals amplify their strengths and manage the things that they find difficult. Unfortunately, if they are not able to bring their strengths to bear because their executive function doesn’t allow them to be present. They will be unable to deploy their strengths. What is often needed here is some skills and frameworks to help the individual unleash their potential, these could look like:
Checking in on how well things are going.
- What does the day look like?
- Have you got enough time to do the things you have set before you?
- Who do you feel you need to ask about what to do next?
- Do you need space just to put things in perspective?
- Who are you going to be accountable to?
- What are you going to do when things go wrong?
- What is your Banana?
Definition of banana – it is the thing you have in your back pocket. It gives you time and space to reset yourself. My Banana is often around taking a short break to do something completely different for example skipping.
Lists and processes
Creating a list of activities is a really helpful way to understand what needs to be done.
Don’t treat these like a stick!
Treat them as a way to formulate your plan for the day.
Processes are also useful as once you have done something once:
- Record it
- Review it
- Revisit it – make it better next time!
Once it is written down you have something to compare it against removing the need to rethink how you going to do something again. It is also a great tool to go to when you have run out of road as you have already done your thinking.
Reflect on what is happening, take stock and make sure you ask someone else to check in on your belief of what’s going on. It is worth pre-emptively asking someone to help with this so when you need help, they already know how to serve you best.
Remove the Tat and rubbish to make space for this thinking.
This could be about just coming away from your current work environment, tidying up, or turning off your email. What is important here is you are not distracted when you are working on your processes.
Think about the team you work with, who loves doing certain tasks? what tasks do you love doing? how can you collaborate to get the most out of both of you? What tasks should neither of you be doing that can be automated or relegated?
Navigating this space is tricky, especially on your own. If this article rings true, I would encourage you to reflect on it with someone you trust at work or reach out to a workplace coach who can help you move through this space.
If you would like to have a conversation with me about this topic for yourself or someone you lead please get in contact.
Book self idea credit Janette Beetham