Next week we will all wish each other a happy New Year. And many people with autism will also receive that wish. But what if we turn that wish into concrete actions that can really make a difference in the happiness of people with autism? In the last weeks before New Year I post 10 concrete actions that can make 2022 a happy/happier year for autistic people. No super big, impressive, world changing actions, but little things that can make a difference. Small interventions, based on theory and research, that can easily be applied and that can make life in 2022 a (more) H.A.P.P.Y. life for someone (or more people) on the autism spectrum. Make your New Year’s Resolutions for an autism-friendly 2022 concrete and join me in 10 easy to do autism friendly well-being actions. And remember: no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
Tip #7: The good memories calendar
The absolute thinking that typifies autism has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the drawbacks is that an autistic brain sometimes tends to think in black and white. So, when something happens that creates an unpleasant feeling, autistic brains tend to ‘forget’ all the positive experiences. Given the fact that life is usually more challenging for autistic people, this can lead to an unbalance in the experience of pleasant and unpleasant emotions.
Another thing that makes it hard for autistic people to activate the context of previous positive experiences is the fact that the episodic memory is often affected in autism. Dermot Bowler, professor psychology at City University London, has done a lot of research into the memory of autistic people and discovered that there is often an imbalance in their memory profile: a good or even excellent memory for facts (semantic memory) can go together with a weak memory for personal experiences (episodic memory). This can lead to the person not being able to retrieve positive experiences from memory. Moreover, autistic people with additional learning difficulties might have difficulties thinking of (previous) positive experiences without additional visual support.
So, here’s tip #7: when you see the autistic person is having a positive experience, take a picture of the event (or, if possible, ask the autistic person to take a picture or a selfie). Collect these pictures and save them to make a good memories calendar. You can make a monthly calendar, showing the positive experiences of a certain month (e.g. January), but you can also make a weekly calendar. On regular moments you invite the autistic person to look at the pictures. For people on the autism spectrum who have a lot of free (empty) time, this could even be a daily activity. With the pictures of the calendar, we active the episodic memory for good moments in life. Obviously, you don’t have to wait until the end of 2022 to look back at the good moments of 2022…