Checklists, Notes and Memory

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By Dan Coulter

I’ve never been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder, as my son has. But, as my wife will attest, I certainly have some of the tendencies of both. Okay, more than some.

When we took my son back to college last week, he ran into one of his lab partners from last year’s class. She was a cheerful girl who called out, “Hi Drew!”

“Hi Jessica,” he replied.

“Robin,” she corrected, not unkindly.

“Robin! Right, sorry,” he recovered quickly.

I sympathized. I’ve always had trouble remembering names. It’s not intentional. Some of us just seem to have a Teflon coating on the brain shelf where we store names. There are often slick surfaces on other shelves, too. That’s why some of us get into a room and can’t remember why we came. Or forget what we intended to buy at the store. Or drive three hours to college and then remember some of the key items we intended to bring.


There’s a tool that can help here. I’ve used it for a long time, but only learned the other day watching the History Channel that the airline version was developed by Charles Lindbergh. It’s the pre-flight checklist.

Writing out ahead of time what we need to do or take when we walk out the door can save a lot of grief later. It also takes some of the pressure off. You don’t have to worry that you’re forgetting something if you’ve got a list of items to check off.

And writing things down works for other memory-challenged areas of our brains. I learned in a speed-reading class that taking notes helps fix things in your memory, even if you don’t look at the notes again.

In addition to his class notes, I encouraged Drew to keep a separate notebook as a “logbook.” He can use his logbook to write down a variety of things he may need later. If you write a phone number or email address or item you need to buy at the bookstore on a small piece of paper, it’s easy to lose. If you put it in your logbook, you may have to search, but you know you can find it. Calendar and appointment books are great, and some of them have notes sections you can use for this purpose.

However you keep a logbook, it helps to put a title and date on each entry to help you find what you’re looking for later. Was that phone number for the drug store or the dean or something else? Without a title and date, entries can be useless. Also, reviewing your logbook once a day helps you catch any items that require action.

You can go overboard. I once had a boss chide me for taking too detailed notes in meetings. She had a point, but I realized later that I focused on taking notes to ease my paranoia that I wouldn’t remember something important. It was a high-pressure job.

You have to find the balance that works right for you. I still find that jotting a few notes down while I’m on the phone really helps me remember things later. I've had experiences where it seemed obvious I'd remember something when I heard it -- like a person's name -- only to struggle to recall it a few minutes later. For someone like my son, I think jotting down names of other students when he hears them in class, then looking at these notes at the end of the day can help cement them into his mind.

Many kids are visual learners. I’ve always appreciated picture directories so I can look people up and reference their names. It’s something you might consider doing for a child in grade school. A little drilling with flash cards created from school pictures and name labels could help break down the social barrier of not knowing what to call the kids on either side in the lunch line. It can also be helpful for teachers to have elementary school kids wear nametags for the first few weeks of school –- particularly during group activities where the kids are expected to interact.

The key is ingenuity and simplicity. What do you want to remember – or have your child remember? What simple tools or habits can you create that will help?

Checklists, notes, directories and nametags are just some of the options available. But if you find the right tools, they can serve as rubber gripper strips on those slippery brain shelves.

See anything in this article you think you can use? You may want to write it down --before you forget.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of “ASPERGER SYNDROME: Success in the Mainstream Classroom,” and other educational videos. You can find more articles on his website at:

Copyright Dan Coulter 2004 Used by Permission All Rights Reserved

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