Uniquely Human: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Emotional Memory

“When we think about memory, we often think of facts–objective, neutral information about experiences we have had, people we have met or know about, or places. Beyond the facts, though, we have memories of our feelings about things. In our minds we subconsciously tag memories with certain emotions: happy, sad, painful, frustrating, joyous, stressful” (94).


“When we find a person’s behavior baffling or inexplicable, it’s often because the person standing right in front of us is caught up in a memory so intense and vivid that it’s as if the events are happening all over again” (96).


“[F]or a child with autism, a memory lodges itself in the mind and often can’t be shaken” (98).


“While we all experience emotional memory, for most of us it’s rare for those memories to overwhelm us or significantly intrude on our lives and our ability to function. So when parents and teachers witness the extreme reactions their children and students have to negative emotional memories, they sometimes wonder whether the child might actually be experiencing some form of [PTSD]” (101).


“One significant insight: once you have a traumatic memory, you can’t erase it; it lingers in the brain” (101-102).

Three clues to tell if it’s an emotional memory issue (102):

  • The child displays a strong behavioral reaction that does not seem related to something you can observe.
  • The child consistently expresses fear or anxiety in relation to a particular person, place, or activity.
  • The child engages in echolalia[.]

“The most important factor in helping a person with autism cope with negative emotional memories is to acknowledge and validate her experience and provide supports for emotional regulation” (102).


“Another helpful approach is working strategically to turn a negative into a positive–to find ways to make places or activities associated with negative emotional memories more welcoming and comfortable” (104).


“Of course that’s the most helpful strategy of all: helping to create a life full of positive memories. As parents and professionals, we help to do that whenever we offer choices instead of exerting control; whenever we foster the child’s interests and honor the child’s strengths rather than redirecting; whenever we make learning, work, and life fun and joyful. When we do those things, our children, teens, and adults with autism will have far fewer negative emotional memories to cope with, making them more open to the joys and pleasures that life offers” (107).

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post and continue to read my posts on Uniquely Human by Barry Prizant. 🙂 ❤



Prizant, B. (2015). Uniquely human: A different way of seeing autism. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

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