“What’s my name, Quincy?” … “Come on, we’re in the same English class, how can you not know who I am?”
This has become a common interaction for me at school recently, ever since it became widespread knowledge that “Quincy can’t remember anyone’s name.” I get stopped a lot with people asking me the same question: “what’s my name?” I hate it. I hate it because a majority of the time I really don’t know what their name is. This is usually followed by them relenting about how I was in the same class as them, or we talked once, or they “thought we were friends” (even if I didn’t think we were friends). They become totally baffled at how I could “not know know who they are” given we’re at the same school (and I’m at a small private school with less than 400 kids total, everyone knows everyone to some degree). It’s become annoying because generally people have been very nice to me at this school. So, I’m writing this to explain why myself and other autistic people may have trouble remember people’s names.
What’s in a name?
There’s a common misconception that people seem to have when they learn that I don’t know their name: that that therefore means that I don’t know who they are. This is untrue. I can know all about a person, their personality, likes, what they did yesterday, facts about them, and all sorts of other things without knowing their names. I’m not sure why this confuses some people, but it does. You see, when I think of a person I don’t think of their name, I think of them. When I think of anything I don’t think of the word for it, I see pictures of it, and feel it, and hear it. Thinking is a sensory experience for me, my thought process does not resemble an “internal monologue” of just words. I really do think in pictures. And really, a name is just a word used to represent a person.
Thinking in pictures
Now, there are sometimes words in my head, but it’s always in the context of using words, like thinking about what I’ll write next, or say next, or remembering verbatim what someone else said. But mostly, when I think, I don’t really have what you might call an “internal monologue,” when I think I see, and feel, and hear what I’m thinking about. Thinking is a sensory experience. I think in raw emotion and raw sensory input. I didn’t realize that some people think that this is strange until recently.
The whole “thinking in pictures” deal is often associated with autism, though as with most things with autism, it actually doesn’t exclusively apply to autistic people, nor does it apply to all autistic people. There are non-autistic people who don’t have a so-called “internal monologue” and think with pictures like I described, and there are also plenty of autistic people who think traditionally, by hearing their own voice in their head.
However, it is also true that a lot of autistic people have trouble remembering names, and so I suggest that, like me, this is because of their thinking style. It is also true that some people (in the standard neurotypical arbitrary fashion) have decided that remembering names is some mega-important “social skill.” And so, I’m also here to offer these pieces of wisdom:
If a person cannot remember your name (particularly an autistic person) it’s not some great personal insult. It’s not because they don’t like you, or found you forgettable, or are intentionally trying to put you down. It doesn’t mean they don’t remember you or don’t know who you are. Please stop judging people for such minuscule things as the ability to remember names. This of course isn’t the only minuscule thing that autistic people get unfairly ridiculed for on a daily basis, but ultimately this attitude is a big reason why the world is so inaccessible for autistic people.
Can we please start respecting different thinking styles, as well as the consequences that come from them?