A Gifted Memory


“Mom, you remember my first tricycle with the push bar that screwed in on the back?” “Yes”, I replied, quizzically wondering where this conversation was going to lead. “I so disliked when you insisted on using that bar. It was quite embarrassing and made me feel like such a baby!” At 8 years old, he was recalling riding his first tricycle at 18 months old. The push bar was used for only one day because a little 18 month old pushed back vehemently about its use.

Intellectual giftedness is often so much more than what intelligence, academic and aptitude tests normally measure. Of course we understand that no test is 100% accurate for all people, but when testing for intelligence, not all intellectual traits can be measured. While short term memory can be measured and is used as a factor in intelligence testing, what about long term memory?

My youngest gifted son has, at times, astounded as well as frightened us with his incredible long term memory. Events, people, smells, emotions, names, places and even peripheral factors such as the air temperature or background noise at the time of the original situation and setting – can all be recalled by our son. And it amazes us how far back in his childhood his memory goes and how much of his earliest years he can remember. This has been an incredible and useful, but sometimes frustrating gift.

His frustration is often felt when he is recounting a specific situation as part of an enthusiastic conversation or an important point he wishes to make, and his father and I just can’t remember the event he is trying to help us bring to mind! He desperately tries to bring in every detail he can summon to trigger our memory, including some so minuscule, I am awed that anyone can remember such inconsequential details. These conversations often leave him a bit angry with us for being unable remember what he needs us to, and then it brings about an end to his pointed conversation or the point he was trying to make.

I am ashamed to admit that my son’s mega-memory has become a crutch for the rest of us. When we need to remember something: “Hey, do you remember the name of the man that came to fix our fridge last year?” When we’ve lost something: “Do you remember where that special, safe place was where I put the extra set of keys to the car?” Or when I need a memo: “Okay, remember these room measurements for me, and we will go get the paint for the room this afternoon.”

And his memory works well for him, too. When he wants something: “Mom, remember when you had promised me years ago you would buy me that software and you never did?” When he doesn’t want to do something: “Papa, remember when you promised me last week that I could skip scooping dog poop this week?”

One event in recent history, and one that I can recall, still stuns and intrigues me.

We moved about a year ago, and during the first few months, we happily took in all the most popular sights and places of our new city.  One particular restaurant was extremely popular, always crowded, and had a wait time no matter what time of day you went. We had to try it! Once we were seated in this bustling, crowded restaurant, it was at times difficult to enjoy our meal with all the people, noises and movement, but it was a worthwhile visit.

Another point we made during our move was to get our son, who was 13 years old at the time, into social situations as soon as possible so he could make new friends. Before our move, I investigated different teen-appropriate groups, teams and clubs that our son could join or participate in. In one such group, after hearing about our new-in-town family, with a teen in tow who wanted to get plugged into social groups pronto, one mom, whom we had never met, offered to get her same-age son and my son together. We invited her son over to our house to come hang out, and while the moms, dads and sons, who had all just met for the first time chatted in our foyer, our son made a mind-blowing revelation.

As we relayed to our new friends all the local highlights we had already taken in, we brought up the popular, always-crowded eatery we had been to a month ago. Coincidence would have it that our new friends’ uncle owned the well-known restaurant.  Cool!

“Weren’t all of you there about 4 weeks ago sitting at the high table in the middle of the restaurant?”, asked my son. Blood immediately drained from my face. I flailed between, “is this one of his jokes?”, or “did he meet these people at some point and I didn’t know about it?”, or worse, “he is going to be so embarrassed when he finds out he made a mistake”! How could my son remember what a group of strangers at a ridiculously crowded restaurant looked like enough to recognize them as the people we just met for the first time who are now standing in our foyer? He must be mistaken–an easy, forgivable mistake. No biggie.

Then the mom said that in fact they were there 4 weeks ago celebrating her older twin sons’ birthdays. What? Really? Are you kidding me?  And in reply to what his new friend’s mom just stated, our son commented, oh so tactfully, that he also recognized that their teenage son, his new friend, had the same outfit on now as he did in the restaurant 4 weeks ago!  Ouch!

Just because you remember something doesn’t mean you have to spout it out! But darn, how did he recognize and remember these people who were total never-ever-laid-eyes-on-before strangers 4 weeks ago in a large crowded and bustling restaurant? Could he recall every stranger in that restaurant?

His gifted memory astounds and frightens me; and at times, when he was much younger, his verbalization of these memories in public made me want to run and hide.

Please remember that this post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page September Blog Hop: Gifted, How? Don’t forget to read all the other memorable posts that are part of this blog hop!

Gifted, How?

31 Comments on “A Gifted Memory

  1. Pingback: “Una memoria superdotada” un artículo de Celi Trepánier | Asociación ENOL

  2. That embarassing situation sounds pretty familiar to me Celi and for that reason it has put a smile on my face, more than one time… In my opinion your son did’nt scan all the stranger of that crowded restaurant… I think your story could be also related with the strong intuition of highly gifted people. I mean, its possible that he would pay attention to that family for some unkonwn reason, perhaps the position where they stay(in the middle of the restaurant) could have influence on it. Of course, I could be mistaken and perhaps your son could remember any face of that crowdy restaurant but your story could be linked with the strong intuition and with the evolutioned way that gifted people process information…

    As you well said, its very sad to couldn’t tell the truth simply because its something weird for the 98 per cent. But this doesnt mean that your son is weird or “freak”, I will like to put here this quote of Linda Silvermann…http://sengifted.org/100-words-of-wisdom-linda-silverman/

    In my opinion giftedness didnt suck at all, while I understand a lot your feelings because its really hard sometimes to see the world in a different way but Its the rest of society the ones who had to understand it. Your son didnt have to change, as he didnt comit any crime for being able to remember things that other people couldnt, and also for having that strong intuition which some gifted people have. Being different can also give to your son a very special and unique personality and that’s the best present giftedness gives, from my point of view at least… :).

    Million thanks for your braveness to share this story ^^.

    • Avalon,

      Intuition–yes, that could definitely account for many situations where it wasn’t necessarily his memory.

      Gifted children and adults should feel good about their giftedness, but being different isn’t always an advantage–sometimes fitting in and flying under the radar is a safer route for many children in school. I do know many gifted individuals who love and appreciate their giftedness; and I know many who just wish to be normal because their giftedness has brought them more distress than happiness. It all depends on the culture towards gifted students within which a gifted child grows up.

      Thanks for sharing the link to Linda Silverman’s 100 Words of Wisdom–she is one of the best in the field!

      Thank you for leaving your thoughts here, Avalon! I truly appreciate you sharing your opinions on memory versus intuition!

      • Thanks a lot, for your words, Ceil ^^

        To my way of thinking it could be both things, strong memory and high intuition. Perhaps one is linked with the other as for remembering something you need intuition and for having intuition you also need to recall it. At least, with this kind of intuition… I understand you completely as its terrible that some people rejected their giftedness because they feel clueless and they only wanted to fit in this world. I think this means that society is doing somethething so wrong!!! Its so true that to be “like the others” is more easier to don’t have any problems at school… As a gifted, I can say that I would never change my giftedness, even its so true that sometimes its very hard to be different I couldn’t imagine my life without the experiences I had lived thanks for seeing the world in that way. And the main main reason is that if I were “like the others” I probably will be dead since a lot of years as my intuition, and that way to scan with all details all the environment, saved my life(an the others members of my family) more than once. So rejecting giftedness would be like rejecting my life, for me… In the end, the matter is that the main problem have gifted people is simply because, as you well said in your other article, humans always tend to sniff at anybody which is different because they feel like you coulndn’t do that things. It’s impossible to believe it for them, simply because they don’t know about the personalities of some gifted ones, but even worse is that they don’t spend want to understand it. For that reason many gifted always hide their abilities, like being “in the closet”, because they thought that they may loose friends if the others know about their particular skills. Thus, we have one of the biggest problems of high giftedness, isolation….The school is only an example for the problems that they may have in their adulhood, specially if they are undiagnosed. This is very sad but so true…

        Yes, I totally agree with you. Linda Silverman is one of the greatest experts in the field. And you’re right, all depends a lot with the environment the gifted grew up…

        Million thanks again for talking about a topic that is so overlooked!!

        • Avalon,

          You are welcome, but mostly I want to thank you for sharing your insights and experiences. The best any of us can do is to continue being a part of the conversation about giftedness, and sharing our thoughts and experiences. This keeps the conversation going, brings the topic to the forefront, and may help others to finally understand giftedness. It also helps gifted individuals who feel isolated to see they are not alone.

          I look forward to our next conversation!

          • Yes I totally agree with you Celi, It seems like I need to hear that words in someone else’s mouth to loose all that fears that keep me away to talk about it. As you well said, sharing this thoughts, we can help to other gifted people to feel they aren´t alone. For that reason, I thank you a lot for telling about this so overlooked subject.

            By the way, you said at the beginning of your article that this kind of abilites, like long-tem memory(and I supposed that also intuition) coulndn’t be measured with ordinary tests like WAIS. I am asking about that myself since many years and I have the same opinion. Indeed, if you think twice its impossible for that tests to measure things like creativity, intuition, sensitiveness… traits that are very common in many gifted people. From my point of view this is the biggest reason that there are so many gifted ones without being detected. I know this subject is so controversial that all the experts in the field coulnd’t get agree with each other…. But I think its true that gifted community is in about 2-3 per cent of the population. So, what happened if one person have the same characteristics of that minoriry and the scoring in a test is only average? It means that persons isn’t gifted? I’m not pretty sure. Luckily it seems like nowadays the connoisseurs in the subject are getting more warned in traits like sensitiveness or creativity. I think they’re in the the good way…

            Being gifted can get you in trouble sometimes, specially for the repudiation ot the others, but to be gifted without knowing why you are different can destroy you emotionally…

          • Hi Avalon,

            Thank you again for all your thoughts and contributions to the gifted conversation!

            “but to be gifted without knowing why you are different can destroy you emotionally…” I agree with this 100%!

          • What I have wanted to say before is that people like Einstein, Mozart, or Da Vince never did an IQ test for proving their giftedness, and I’m sure anyone of us doubt about it. As you now, many experts estimate their IQ based in their achivements and assuming that no one could reach to the levels they unless having a high giftedness…

            In your sons story we can say more or less the same. Could anyone who isn’t gifted remember that things and that insignificants details as your son? That is my question :). I know may connoisseurs in the subject thought that gifted people proccess information in an unique way, as the word well said “gifted” means that this person is born with a special gift…

          • Determining giftedness is complicated–IQ isn’t always the only criteria although it is the most popular. Creativity, memory, advanced sense of humor and others should also be considered. But yes, the achievements of Einstein, Mozart and Da Vinci most definitely demonstrated a gifted mind.

            It’s so hard to describe a gifted mind. A colleague of mine describes the unique way gifted people perceive the world or process information as seeing and interpreting the world “through a stronger lens.”

            Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

          • Its so true that sometimes is complicated to determine a gifted mind, I think they always have to be tested by people who is licensed and very skilled in this subjetc, as most psychologist and psychiatrists haven’t many notions about this topic. When your colleague said “stronger lens” I suppose is refering to the big intensity with witch they perceive the world. Many experiences are very intense for many gifted because, as your friend well salid, they proccess the information more vividly. I think the intensity could also explain the “secret” of long-term memory. Many humans remember all the things they experience deeply the difference could be that gifted ones perceive almost everything in that way, and they usually are very interested in things that the others completely ignore. So then, perhaps for them is a bit “easier” to recall those intense memories… :).

          • “Many humans remember all the things they experience deeply the difference could be that gifted ones perceive almost everything in that way, and they usually are very interested in things that the others completely ignore” <---I think you just hit on something here. This is definitely a strong possibility for explaining an advanced memory! I'll have to look into this more and see if there is research on this. Thanks, Avalon!

          • Many thanks for your words again, I’m very happy that this theory interested you so much. I’m afraid there aren’t so many studies about this as its a very overlooked theme, as we told. So it still remains as a personal thought only, based in my experiences as gifted. I have to say that an intense experience also becomes in a memory you keep in your mind for some days, since that happened. So its like you replay that moment, more than once as you’re thinking about it all the time for a certain period. I think this could be another “secret” of an advanced memory :).

  3. I am a 56 year old woman who is gifted with long term memory recollection to the point of it being physiologically damaging due to a traumatic childhood.–At times my long term memory serves me well, but, not always.–My husband told me that he saw a segment on CNN about people who are gifted with long term memory recollection. It seems that only 17 people in the world, so far, have been discovered with the ability to recall details as far back as when they were crawling. My son, in fact, remembers when he managed to hop over the bars of his crib and fall on the floor when he was only 8 months old.–I have amazed and astounded people with my ability to remember things my entire life,and, I wish that I could find further information on this subject. here was further reading or any kind of information on this subject. If you know of anything regarding long term memory recollection please post. Thank You for sharing.

    • Hi Catherine,

      Having a gifted memory is a topic not often spoken about because, as you said, it is a rare gift. I will certainly post anything I come across–I usually post articles of interest on my Crushing Tall Poppies Facebook page.

      Thank you for giving us a small glimpse into what it is like having such a remarkable long term memory, Catherine!

  4. Loved this article. Definitely describes my daughter…and I related as I have a good memory but my daughter’s is unbelievable and I have found myself leaning on hers. It started to with her knowing what every kid in her pre-school class did all day and with her reporting to their parents at the end of the day, any and all information that they needed to know about their child. By two she knew every parent and grand parent in her grade level in daycare and I’d get recognized as her mom with astounded parents coming up to me relaying what she’d told them all in good nature and astonishment and yet…since some of what was relayed while true was not positive…I felt eeeeeeeeeeek, really did you need to remember and tell their parent THAT 🙂

    • Yup! I know I’ve repeated this statement thousands of times to my youngest, “Just because it is true, does not mean you have to say it!”

      Thanks, Gini, for sharing that sweet little story!

  5. Yes, this is my son too! I have to be so careful to never promise anything that I can’t deliver, lol! He will remember even years later. And yes, I do rely on him to help me remember things – but I rely on everyone, even my little 3 year old DD. My memory is hopeless unless it’s books.

    • I think my memory has gotten worse because I rely on his so much!

      I am so happy to see that there are many other children with these phenomenal memories – I was afraid to say something about my son’s because I thought others would think he was a freak. Yay! We are not alone! Thanks for sharing!

  6. My 10yo son tells us stories about what happened that day (or whenever) and can repeat the story verbatim to me, when he comes home from school, then his brother, and then his dad. All exactly the same phrasing and detail.

    He spent a horrible gap year between a pre-school (which he aged out of ) and kindergarten (which he wasn’t quite ready to attend) at a montessori daycare. The director of the daycare was quite unprepared to handle a gifted child, and to this day my son continues to bring up details of how illogical the director was. And the stories are told with exactly the same deep descriptions.

    • I find it so fascinating how they remember situations such as how illogical the director of his Montessori daycare was. But it is their memory, attention to details and their keen sense of justice that seem to make them continue to bring up instances like these! Thanks for sharing, Grace!

      • I’ve got memories like this. The infant school I was about to go to was on a split level and the lower side had arches with the playground continuing under the building (and if you watched the first series of Happy Valley, you’ve seen it). I was VERY enthusiastic about going under those arches. But the first day of school I was told we were only allowed to go under the arches when it rained. By the time it rained the whole concept had lost its appeal.

        I also remember loads of details in science programs from the eighties. Did you know that what is now called the ‘glass cockpit’ where computers fly planes and pilots monitor them was originally going to be the other way round and was called the ‘electronic cocoon’? (Horizon: The Wrong Stuff, 1986, age five)

          • After posting I found the Horizon episode is available online. I’ve just watched it for the first time since our Grundig 2000 died sometime in the late eighties. Strange experience. I’m still interested in human factors today and that was where it started.

          • Oh, I may have to check that out. Thanks.

            I know I keep saying it, but thank you for all of your comments, insights and thoughts! And especially your humour!

  7. Oh, yes, I have one of these kids! If we lose anything at all, we call on her. She once said that she remembered being in her crib. Really makes me walk on eggshells sometimes!

  8. I like this post! Your son really has a mega memory.

    My almost 5-year-old son has an elephant’s memory too and he would tell me he remembers events from the past. Just today, he said he remembered the porridge that he used to eat when he was three years old and it was yucky.

    However, it seems he has selective memory as well because when I asked him about his former teachers, he said he could not remember them.

    • OH yes! Their memory can sometimes be conveniently selective, like: “Why didn’t you put the trash out last night?” “Oops! I guess I forgot, Mom!” Yeah, right….

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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