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RememberingMemory for Names

Child Can't Remember Names

Young child wearing a bigt hat and hlding a sign that says, "Hello, My Name Is."
Marcy Willard
Marcy Willard
Ph.D., NCSP
Last modified 31 Aug 2022
Published 04 Aug 2022

What is Memory for Names in Childhood?

Memory for names in childhood is the ability to recall the names of familiar people.

In the typical course of social development, it is expected that children will learn the names of classmates, friends, and relatives from an early age. 

Symptoms of Memory for Names Issues 

  • Unable to remember friends’ names: your child struggles to remember their friend’s names even though they sit by them at lunch every day
  • Unable to describe good friends by name: your child has several close friends but is unable to remember their names
  • Doesn’t differentiate between friends and classmates: your child describes all classmates as ‘friends’ and cannot describe how a friend is unique from an acquaintance
  • Says “I can’t remember”: your child returns from the playground, all red-faced and excited over the fun they’ve just had. You ask who they played with and they cannot remember a single playmate’s name 
  • Refers to friends by physical attributes: your child says things such as “he wears the black glasses” or “she’s my friend with the shiny blue eyes”
  • Doesn’t greet peers: your child recognizes friendly peers as you wait out front at the school building in the morning. You notice that when peers say hello, your child will often not say hi back
  • Unresponsive when people say their name: your child doesn’t always respond to their own name being called

Causes of Memory for Names Issues

ADHD

Occasionally, a kid with ADHD may struggle to remember friends’ names due to distractibility and forgetfulness. Kids with ADHD may be a bit abrasive, like a ‘bull in a china shop,’ which can impact social skills. With a little extra teaching and support, your child should remember friends’ names. Although they may forget people’s names at times, most kids with ADHD are fairly comfortable conversing and greeting people they bump into at the park or the grocery store. 

Autism

Children with autism have social challenges. Many kids on the Autism Spectrum have a hard time remembering what people look like, where they saw the person before, or what their name was. If your child has a good memory for other areas, such as facts and details, but forgets people’s names, this can be a sign of autism. Learning about classmates, including their names, faces, and interests, is part of typical development that does not come automatically for children on the Autism Spectrum Spectrum. It will be important to look for help if you notice your child is struggling with social development, social communication, and general friendship skills.

General memory issues

General memory concerns can impact your child’s ability to learn names. You will notice your child struggling across multiple disciplines to remember information. For example, a child who forgets classmates’ names but can give the scientific name for many different dinosaurs probably doesn’t have a general memory issue, but he or she may struggle with selective attention and social learning. A child who struggles with learning and memory in a global manner (in many subjects and situations) should be evaluated for learning or cognitive delays.

What to Do About Memory for Names Issues in Childhood

DO: teach rhyming or association games. With your child, sit down at the table and write all the classmate’s names on an index card. If possible, get a picture of each child to put on the card. Cover the name and play a game with your child that involves seeing how many names they can remember.

DO: talk about the children in your child’s class. With your child, talk frequently about other kids in the class. Ask your child what the child likes to do. Find out if the classmate has any siblings or pets. As a parent, you can be a good model by describing kids in the class and sharing information about them. 

DO: have playdates. With your child, plan structured activities, like a Lego day, an art activity, or a trip to Jump Street. Enroll your child in structured activities that align with their interest. On your way home in the car, ask your child about the kids in the class or activity. See how many names they can remember.

When to Seek Help for Memory for Names Issues

If you notice other social challenges for your child after providing lots of social outlets and opportunities, it may be time to consider an evaluation to assess for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Significant challenges with attention can also have social ramifications. ADHD may be diagnosed if you find that your child’s social skills are mostly age-appropriate and that the challenges are primarily due to inattention.

Professional Resources for Memory for Names Issues

  • Psychologist or neuropsychologist: to consider a full assessment to evaluate possible symptoms in a mental health, developmental or behavioral context
  • Neurologist: to look at other brain-based causes for memory deficits, especially if issues are severe and across multiple settings. It would be important to rule out brain injuries and neurodevelopmental issues like Autism or ADHD
  • School psychologist: to determine learning needs based on neuropsychological profile. It could be that an IEP, 504 plan or RTI is warranted to help your child

Similar Conditions to Memory for Names Issues

If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for information about other related symptom areas.

  • Focused attention: difficulties with attention will often lead to challenges in remembering things like names 
  • Perseverating: difficulties changing tasks due to excessive interest or focus on a certain topic. This difficulty is common in ASD and can impact a child’s ability to remember information, including names
  • Executive functioning: difficulties related to planning, sequencing, or organizing information can impact memory for names
  • Processing speed: difficulties working quickly or within a time limit can impact memory. It is important to consider fluency in cognitive processing. A child may not remember information, such as names, due to processing issues
  • Memory for learning: a visual learner may struggle with names because it requires auditory learning. Visual learners may benefit from labeling pictures of people or associating people with places or objects that are very familiar
  • Social skills deficits: children who have difficulties getting along with peers may also struggle to remember people’s names. 

Resources for Memory for Names Issues in Childhood 

Baker, Jed. (2006) Social skills picture book for high school and beyond.

Barkley, Russell A. (2013) Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents. 

Cooper-Kahn, Joyce & Dietzel, Laurie C. (2008). Late, lost, and unprepared: A parent’s guide to helping children with executive functioning.

Giler, Janet Z. (2011). Socially ADDept: Teaching social skills to children with ADHD, LD, and Asperger’s.

Gray, Carol & Attwood, Tony (2010). The New Social Story Book, Revised and Expanded 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Social Stories that Teach Everyday Social Skills to Children with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and their Peers.

Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco.

Koegel, Lynn Kern & LaZebnik, Claire (2010). Growing up on the spectrum: A guide to life, love and learning for teens and young adults with autism and Asperger’s.

Lorayne, Harry & Lucas, Jerry (2012) The Memory Book: A classic guide to improving your memory at work school and play

Ozonoff, Sally & Dawson, Geraldine & McPartland, James C. (2014). A parent’s guide to high functioning autism spectrum disorder: How to meet the challenges and help your child thrive.

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