The stutterry working memory of dyslexia, dyspraxia, and allied conditions
It usually takes me at least two separate teaspoons to make a hot drink, and four or five to make a smoothie.
This is not because there is any real issue with using the same spoon for more than one task, though most smoothies do require two clean spoons, as it is a bit of a problem to put the same spoon in both yogurt and cocoa, or similar wet/dry ingredient pairs. But there isn’t any culinary need to use another two spoons to scrape the blender and blending jug, or to use different spoons to spoon coffee into a cup and to stir it in.
The excessive spoon numbers happen because I have a memory that cannot retain continuously the information that the spoon needs to be kept for reuse*. This results in almost all spoons, once they have been used once, being tidied instantly into the washing up, where they are either unidentifiable, or end up covered in tomato soup or dirty washing water, and can’t be used without being scrubbed. Very occasionally, by chance or with an effort of extreme concentration, I remember to keep one, but it is the exception, not the rule.
A stutterry memory affects doing the process, but often does not affect understanding it. I am able to describe what efficient spoon use requires: take one spoon and use it for the yogurt, and another for dry ingredients (if any), starting with things like seeds that will not adhere to the spoon as powders will. Put one spoon in the washing up and retain the other for scraping the utensils. Blend ingredients. Scrape off blender with spoon and rinse. Pour smoothie into cup and scrape out jug with same spoon.
However, I cannot, while actually doing it, retain this continuously in my memory. The habit of dropping used utensils (bar the butter knife) straight into their washing tub, is too strong.
I usually, though not always, remember to put all the ingredients in before blending the mixture, but that is not something one has to retain in one’s mind continuously: it is enough to come back to it a couple of fairly random times as one goes. The problem with spoons is that if I don’t remember all the time not to put them in the washing up, I generally do put them there, and the process of having put them there is normally irreversible – unlike the process of having failed to put a banana in at the usual point in the recipe.
Making a smoothie is about as complex a food preparation task as I normally attempt in everyday life**, for though it is moderately difficult in terms of having to gather a lot of ingredients together, it is fairly indifferent to the order in which you mix them (“necessary but not deducible order” being one of my worst Achilles’ heels) and it is usually easy to see what I have put in and what I haven’t. Also, as I do it every day, I can do most of the process without thinking.
Most people are absent minded occasionally. Having a life-impacting problem is not the result of doing this sort of thing, but of trying to live with the fact that one does it ninety-five percent of the time, rather than five percent of the time. At that level, retaining adequate functionality becomes difficult.
Apart from the straightforward practical difficulties it causes in doing a lot of normal and necessary tasks, this sort of memory difficulty can cause a lot of social friction, for example, when someone else is doing the washing up and has asked you to reuse the spoon to make less work (or in dozens of similar housework, classroom, or work tasks), as it is often hard for people to understand why there is such a problem with doing in practice what someone often has no problem recalling in theory. While I would contend that it is always appropriate to look for ways around (like everyone washing up the teaspoons they’ve used themselves) when it is causing someone else real difficulties, it is necessary to start looking for a solution from a position that accepts the fact that “just trying a bit harder” isn’t going to alter the erratic working or not working of the brain!
I am coming to accept that things like efficiency with the reuse of spoons in the kitchen are beyond me. Fortunately, I have plenty of spare teaspoons, I do my own washing up when I haven’t guests, and the environmental effects of washing up a few extra teaspoons are hopefully not extreme.
While the theoretical effects of dyslexia and related conditions on short term memory are well known, the practical results in everyday tasks are harder to comprehend or anticipate. This type of rather intangible absent-mindedness is, I think, one of the main effects.
*I suppose this is what is normally referred to as processing, but I am not an expert on the technical ins and outs of what the brain is doing and not doing. There is an odd paradox in our culture in that people tend to assume that the experience resulting from a disability is only real if it has a known technical explanation, which would require the explanation to exist prior to the existence of the thing it is trying to explain! The experience is fundamental; the explanation is an explanation of what is causing the experience.
**The limitation results from of stamina management needs in the context of particular lifestyle choices and external practical constrains, not from the literal impossibility of doing more complex tasks.