Only eighty people in the world have been diagnosed with HSAM (Highly Superior Autographical Memory) and Becky Sharrock was the first from Australia.
By Ron Sandison
As a toddler Becky Sharrock screamed when cuddled.
“I can remember every detail from my infant years. It felt unnatural to me to be held. For fun I would organize the cutlery drawer, read atlases and assemble jigsaw puzzles,” Becky says.
Becky’s mom Janet noticed her daughter was unique. On her first birthday Beck’s mom gave her a Minnie Mouse doll, “I was absolutely terrified of it. Yet I couldn’t tell my Mum that Minnie’s face scared me because I was too young to speak.”
At six years old Becky was misdiagnosed with childhood depression. When she was fifteen her younger stepsisters had clinical testing for depression and autism. After her mom examined the diagnostic criteria and characteristics for autism—she decided to have Becky tested for autism.
The tests confirmed her mom’s intuition that Becky was autistic. Becky shares, “Since I was diagnosed at fifteen. Autism has effected virtually every aspect of my life as I have almost all of the characteristics. It’s taking me longer to mature into adulthood, find a career, and live independent.”
Becky’s main struggle with autism is the world is primarily structured for neurotypical people. “Those of us with autism and other disabilities require multiple times the work to get the same acknowledgement as others.”
Some sensory challenges Becky experiences relate to certain sounds, smells and sights. “I am totally terrified of balloons popping. Low buzzing background sounds causes me to experience anxiety. My sensitivity to smells can cause me to visually relive past events in my mind. The smell of honeysuckle causes me to experience anxiety because a house I didn’t like going to as a child had a garden full of that scent. Whenever I came across that fragrance I remember being bullied there. I also don’t like the sight of bare feet so I wear my Converse sneakers.”
Becky has developed some helpful coping skills, “For load sounds I’ve learned to discreetly adapt by listening to music through my Bose headphones. These headphones are the best because they’re soft, costumed fitted, wireless with a long lasting battery, and able to block background noise. With scents I’m beginning to use my sensitive nose to reproduce happy memories. I use drops of fragrant oils on a handkerchief such as peppermint to remind me of my favorite candy shops from childhood or happy holiday occasions.”
From infancy Becky possessed an incredible memory ability. She is able to perfectly recall every event in her life from twelve days old—her earliest memory is lying on a sheepskin in the front seat of a car, looking up at the steering wheel—thinking what is this?
“When I get a memory, I relive it vividly; I know it’s not real, but my emotions think it is. I can even remember every birth date of mine.” Becky loves Harry Potter and can recite all seven books.”
Becky does not have a photographic memory but her mind has a powerful ability for recollection of sequences of events down to the microscopic detail. Becky shares, “My short term memory is poor but after a month it becomes long term which stays forever.”
If you give Becky a random day from twenty years back. She can tell you the day of the week it was, what foods she ate, the weather, her outfit, and every detail in precise order of what she saw and heard.
There are some drawbacks to her memory ability. When Becky was in elementary school bullies noticed she was different and socially awkward and tormented her. “My memory ability makes it difficult to release negative memories and causes me to relive them. I also experience frequent bouts with insomnia, fatigue, and headaches from all the clutter in my mind.”
Whenever Becky recalls a childhood injury—she physically feels the pain again.
In fourth grade Becky dreaded recess due to socializing and dealing with bullies. A teacher lent her a copy of Harry Potter to read. Harry Potter helped her learn how to interpret her emotions and control her thoughts. She was able to relate with Harry Potter who felt alone and different and had magical abilities which enabled him to make friends. “Very soon I made friends of my own and dreaded recess no longer.”
From childhood to teenage years Becky thought her memory ability was like everyone else. On January 23, 2011, as Becky was feeding her guinea pig, her parents said, “Becky come quickly you need to see these people on 60 Minutes who have a memory ability just like yours! It’s called Highly Superior Autographical Memory (HSAM).”
“What’s so amazing about that?” Becky replied.
Becky’s mom contacted the University of California, Irvine and UC’s research team had her travel from Australia to California. After several tests Becky was diagnosed with HSAM and included in the UC Irvine’s Stark Lab’s study. Only eighty people in the world have been diagnosed with HSAM and Becky was the first from Australia.
“One benefit of HSAM is I have an amazing story to tell people about myself. Yet most importantly it gives me an opportunity to contribute to neurological research. This hopefully can lead to the prevention, or even cure of Alzheimer which my grandfather had.”
At twenty-six Becky is writing her first book an autobiography, My Life is a Puzzle.
“In my book I share about my first memories to the present, about my experience with autism and HSAM—what it was like when Mum met my step-dad who had three daughters younger then me and our becoming a happy family.” Becky’s website is A Life Journal. She also writes a monthly blog at Specialkids Company.
Links to other articles about Becky Sharrock:
Meet the Woman who Remembers Most of her Life in Extraordinary Detail
Women with Extraordinary Condition can Remember Every Detail of her Life
Harry Potter fan Rebecca Sharrock can recite seven Harry Potter books
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website Spectrum Inclusion or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org