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Archive for June, 2014


How to Help a Child with Poor Working Memory

child writing

Not all children with poor working memories have a learning disability. However it is more common in children with a neuro- diverse condition.These include Dyspraxia,Dyslexia,ADHD, and Aspergers Syndrome. A child with Dyspraxia is 7 times as likely to have poor visual/spacial working memory then a child with a neuro-typical brain. They are already consciously thinking about their movements ,as well as the information to complete the task. We cannot change how the brain works but there are things we can do to make it easier for children with poor working memories to achieve to their abilities.

Where possible tasks should be broken down into smaller steps. It is much easier to remember one or two instructions at a time. Then when they are completed the child can move on to the next instruction. I am a mature age student and when I am given a task in class I try to just work on one step at a time. If I look at the assignment as a whole I find it over whelming. This is especially true of verbal instructions. It is better where possible to write instructions down, either on the white board or on a piece of paper. This can easily be refered to if the child forgets what they have been asked to do. If you must give instructions verbally give one at a time and speak slowly.

Place the childs desk directly facing the board. Being visual learners they need to see what is going on and not just listen. When copying work from the board these children lose their place more frequently . The teacher is also more easily able to see that the child is paying attention and hasn’t been distracted. Avoid asking them to take notes while watching a video or listening to a lecture. It is very difficult and in some cases impossible for them to do. Writing and listening at the same time takes audio/visual working memory. If you need to do an activity with the class  that involves this perhaps someone else could take notes for the child while he/she listens.

Try to limit distractions. Keep unnecessary classroom noise to a minimum. Talking while working might work for the other students but the child with poor working memory cant filter out the distracting noise. Don’t sit the child near someone who will distract him by talking. When you have poor working memory you need to concentrate on what you are doing. If someone talks to you, you will lose your train of thought and have to start again.

After you give instructions to the child ask them to repeat the instructions back to you. If they can’t remember repeat them again. If they still can’t remember then the instructions need to have fewer steps or be written down. While they are working ask the student to tell you what they are doing and what the next step will be.   Make sure that students know what to do if they forget something. Encourage questions and never get annoyed at them for asking.It is helpful to remind students when work is due. They should use a homework diary . The students should be given time to write down their homework and the teacher should check to make sure they have done it. If they must show the teacher they have written it in their diary before leaving then they will be sure to do it.

When doing reading comprehension it is helpful if the student is given questions before hand as this helps them to remember the most important parts. They can make a conscious effort to commit these important parts to memory. It also helps them to know which information is important. Use charts , pictures and visual aids were ever possible.

Create a checklist to remind the child of things they need to remember. For things that need to be done regularly a chart can be used. This will work well at home as well as school. It can be used for things like helping the child to remember what to pack into their bag for school.  It is also a good idea to have a place to put things that are important not to lose. People with poor working memory often forget where they have put things.

Make eye contact with the child before giving instructions to make sure that you have their attention. If they are involved in something like their favorite show or video game, they may not hear what you are saying. They have difficulty processing too many things at once and may appear to be ignoring you when they genuinely havent heard what you have said. It is then very frustrating for the child to be scolded for disobeying when they simply havent heard you. The good news is that studies have shown that video games that involve strategy or planning and with navigation through different scenes can help to improve visual/spatial working memory.

Remember these children are often very intelligent they just have difficulty processing information in a certain way. This is very frustrating for them. It is our job to teach them in a way that they can understand and not make them feel they are of any less value or intelligence because of it.


Signs of a Poor Working Memory

In a previous post I discussed what working memory is and how it may affect people with some learning disabilities including dyspraxia. What are the signs that you or someone you know may have poor working memory? In this post I would like t talk about the signs that someone may have poor working memory.

It can be difficult to follow multi-step instructions. This is particularly true if instructions are difficult to follow verbally, but can be followed if they are written down. If  the problem was that the person cannot follow instructions then they wouldn’t be able to follow written instructions either. When we are given instructions verbally we must remember the instructions while at the same time trying to work out how to put them into practice.This requires working memory. However if the instructions are written down we don’t have to remember them. We can just read them one at a time and follow them in turn without having to remember the rest of the instructions. This happens to me a lot if I have to ask someone for directions. I don’t remember more than the first couple of instructions. However if the instructions are written down I can follow them. I also find this a problem when in class and my lecturer gives us verbal instructions for a task.

A child with poor working memory will often not complete tasks they are asked to do. They are often accused of not listening or being lazy or naughty. Before getting angry with the child think about how many steps there are in your request. If there are several you could try asking the child to do one or two steps at a time depending on the child’s age. If they then complete what they are asked to do there is a good chance they have poor working memory. There is no point asking them to listen more carefully or concentrate harder because their brain simply cannot do it. EG. You may ask your son to pick his clothes up, put them in the basket , then pick his toys up and put on his shoes . He may pick his clothes up and put them in the basket but leave his toys on the floor and not put his shoes on. He may even pick his clothes up and just stand there with them because he can’t remember what you said to do with them. When you are ready to go out , you may get annoyed because he doesn’t  have his shoes on when you asked him to put them on. He will often insist that you didn’t ask him to. He isn’t lying he really doesn’t remember you asking him to. It is far less frustrating for you both if you just ask him to pick his clothes up and put them in the basket. When he has done that you ask him to put his toys away and then after that ask him to put his shoes on.

In the above example you could give the child the instructions and then ask them to repeat them back to you. A child with poor working memory will have incomplete recall of the instructions. They may be able to tell you the first one or two instructions but not the rest of what you asked. If as an adult you often forget what you have been asked to do and have to re-clarify the instructions halfway through, you may have poor working memory.

Mental Maths and mental spelling can also be difficult with poor working memory. When we do a sum in our head we must picture and remember the numbers in our mind while trying to do the calculation. If we spell mentally we must picture the word in our mind while saying the letters. This particularly indicates poor working memory if the child can perform a maths or spelling task well on paper but struggles to do the same calculations in their head. If it was just a lack of maths or spelling ability then we would expect to experience the same difficulties on paper as we do mentally.

I often repeat instructions to myself out loud when completing a task. It isn’t because I am crazy. By saying the instructions I am giving myself a constant reminder of what I have to do. I often don’t realize I am doing it unless someone points it out to me. If someone does this frequently they may well have poor working memory.

Any activities that require both storage and processing will cause difficulties for people with poor working memory. If someone verbally gives you a telephone number and you have to mentally remember it while dialing it then you are using working memory.  Sometimes I can do this but most of the time I will get some of the numbers wrong. Giving directions is another example. To give someone directions we must picture in our mind the route they need to take while at the same time explaining the way to go ,which directions to turn and street names. I find this particularly frustrating as it makes me feel really stupid and people often look at me like I am. I have found that people with neuro- typical brains  have a lot of difficulty understanding why we can’t do this.

A child with working memory problems will often not contribute much or at all in group discussions. They may also not answer direct questions put to them. This is personally one of the most frustrating issues I have to deal with. So much so that as a child I would often burst into tears if asked a question.Getting angry at them won’t help. My personal experience with this is the more I feel pressured,the harder it is to think . My brain just freezes.The more I am pressured the more it freezes.

Other signs that someone has a poor working memory are:

  • they may need to reread text that they have just read
  • more time is needed to complete tasks and the task may need to be repeated several times in order to commit it to memory
  • how well they perform a task may be inconsistent. One day they may succeed,the next they struggle with it.
  • may not finish activities due to forgetting the instructions that were given to them
  • mind my wander during tasks that are not completely interesting
  • finding it difficult to take notes and listen to what someone is saying at the same time
  • have difficulty planning and organising the steps needed to complete a task.
  • having difficulty solving any type of problem that requires you to remember some information in your head while solving it
  • struggle with any situation that involves multi tasking

Remember working memory is not the same as long-term memory. Many people have good long-term memories but struggle with tasks involving working memory. It certainly isn’t an indication of intelligence. It is however a characteristic of several learning disorders including dyspraxia


You Can Do More Than You Think

Sometimes life throws situations at us that we think we can’t handle, but we can achieve more than we think. My son was unfairly dismissed by his employer. We couldn’t afford a lawyer to represent him, but someone had to if he was going to get justice. The only person willing to do it was me.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I am a very shy person. Even in small groups I say very little until I know people very well. Standing up and speaking in public is something that completely terrifies me and I will avoid it at all costs. This was the scariest thing I had ever contemplated. I often don’t stand up for myself as much as I should. However if someone does something to one of my children then watch out. I am like a lioness defending her cubs. I will fight for those I love even when I won’t fight for myself.

Having dyspraxia I can often appear scatter brained   because I am  unorganised  and often lose things. I have also found people equate being quiet with being stupid. My dyspraxia means I am often challenged in many areas of my life, but I am definitely not stupid. There was more to this task then just going into court and speaking. I had to prepare all the evidence into a case and then write questions to present this evidence. It was a huge task and there was a lot at stake. If someone had asked me 2 years ago if I could do this I would have said no. However I not only did it but we  won the case. The commissioner said she could see I had put my heart and soul into it.

The most difficult thing was giving my evidence. I was representing my son as well as being a witness. I could not ask myself questions. It isn’t permissible to read your evidence so I had to just say my evidence from the top of my head. I especially struggle with talking and thinking on the spot ,so it was quite a challenge. I have no doubt if I didn’t have dyspraxia I would have done it better but I could only do my best. The other thing that was difficult was cross-examination. In order to know what to ask a witnesses, I had to listen and take notes while they gave their evidence. Listening and taking notes is something I struggle with due to my poor working memory. I had to concentrate very hard , which was very tiring and made my head hurt

Never ever give up. Dyspraxia can damage your confidence because so many things can be more challenging for us than the average person. However we are not stupid. In fact most people with dyspraxia are of average or above average intelligence. Sometimes we can take a little longer because of the way our brain is wired. However the feeling of achievement when we succeed is immense. Unfortunately my son’s ex boss has appealed the decision so we must return to court. At least this time I know I can do it.




Dyspraxia and Working Memory

which direction should I go


Many of the challenges I face with dyspraxia involve the use of working memory. Poor working memory can make some otherwise simple tasks difficult and affects not only dyspraxia but several other learning disabilities as well. So what is working memory ? Working memory is the part of short-term memory that allows us to remember information while using that information to perform a task. It involves processing and storing information at the same time. There are 2 types of working memory, Verbal/Auditory working memory and Visual/Spatial working memory.

Verbal/Auditory Working Memory involves being given a set of spoken instructions to complete a task and then remembering the instructions while completing the task. Verbal memory is also used to process the answer to a question that you have been asked. One example of this I always have problems with is asking directions. If I am lost I may ask someone where is the nearest shop? They say to me follow this road, turn left at the lights , turn right at the next street and then left again at the doctor’s surgery. I must remember these instructions in my head while walking along  looking for the landmarks to tell me when to turn. This is working memory, I am remembering instructions while trying to complete a task. I wont remember more than the first 2 because I have poor working memory. The fact that I also don’t instinctively know which way is right or left without thinking about it only adds to the stress on my already reduced working memory.However if you give me the same set of instructions written down I can follow them without a problem. It isn’t that I can’t follow instructions , it is just that I can’t remember the instructions.

Another example of this is remembering a phone number. Obviously the ideal situation is to write a phone number down immediately, but sometimes circumstances don’t allow this. If you have ever been in a situation where you have asked someone for a phone number and have had to remember it in your head while you dial it , then you are using working memory. Most of the time I will get 1 or 2 numbers in the sequence wrong if I try to do this, though occasionally I have suceeded.Mental maths is another example of Verbal/Auditory Working Memory. You must remember the numbers in your head while calculating the answer. It isn’t necessarily an indication of how smart you are. I am good at maths and got A grades all through school, but unless a sum is very simple I cannot do it in my head.It is not my mathematical ability that is the problem, it is my working memory.I can’t remember the numbers and perform the calculation at the same time.

I am not sure if anyone else has this problem but if I am in a group discussion and I am asked a question my  brain just freezes and I cant think.I try really hard but I can’t think what to say even though I know the answer.It makes me feel really stupid and I get frustrated. The harder I try the more my brain freezes. However if I am asked a question in writing and given time to write the answer without pressure I can do it. If you suddenly walked up to me and asked me to explain working memory ,I would stumble over my answer. Yet I can explain it here without too much difficulty.

Visual/Spatial Working Memory involves envisioning something in your mind’s eye and keeping it there while you complete a task. We use this in sequencing ,reproducing a pattern, drawing a diagram and remembering how to find your way around a place. I dread when I am out that people will ask me for directions. To do this I have to remember in my mind how to get somewhere and then give the person directions to get there. Even if I know how to get somewhere and could easily walk there myself, I still have difficulty explaining how to do it. For example if you asked me how to get to the shops,I have to picture in my mind how to get to the shops and then explain to you how to do it. While I am picturing the route in my mind I have to recall the street names and work out whether you need to turn left or right. If someone else is with me I ask them if they can explain it to the person. People close to me know that I can’t give directions . Sometimes I just say I don’t know where the place is they want to go to. It is difficult to say to someone sorry I have dyspraxia and can’t give directions.  Most people have not heard of dyspraxia and just look at you like you are crazy.

A situation I have been in often is when someone offers to give me a lift home but doesn’t know where I live. Now of course I know the way to my house, but I do have difficulty explaining  how to get there. In order to tell them I must visualise the route and then explain it, In this case I have solved this problem by directing them one street at a time as we are driving a long. I must remember to work out if we turn left or right before we come to each turn off. It  makes me feel stupid and frustrated but it does manage to get me from A to B.

Having poor working memory does not mean you are stupid. it also doesn’t mean you can’t learn or remember things. People with dyspraxia are visual learners. We therefore learn better by watching and doing.  We can learn by listening but it is more difficult for us . I have found that I must only listen and not take notes. As soon as I try to take notes I miss pieces of what is being said. I am trying to learn to speak French and learning language does involve working memory. I find learning the written words far easier than the spoken words. Perhaps I will have to settle for reading and writing but I wont give up. After all when I was born I couldn’t speak English and I learnt that.




The Difficulty of Being Organised

Being organised when you have dyspraxia is often very difficult. I find it to be one of my biggest difficulties because it affects me in so many areas of my everyday life. It is more then just putting things away were they belong. When we look at a task we need to decide what needs to be done. We then must decide in what order to do these tasks. Often the job will be finished quicker if we do things in a certain order. For example if you sweep the floor and then clean the top of the cupboards you may knock crumbs and dust on to the clean floor. Deciding what to do and in what order is all part of organisation. It may sound silly to someone who doesnt have dyspraxia, but I cant just look at at task and easily decide what to do and it can be very frustrating

It can involve something as simple as doing the housework. I can walk into my lounge room and see that it needs to be tidied up. What my brain cant easily do is work out what task to do first and the easiest way to do it. A lot of time gets wasted while I try to work it out. Many times through out my life I have been told I do things the hard way. Someone else will see what I am doing and say it would be easier to do it this way. Most of the time after trying it their way I agree. It can also be difficult in a social situation where a group of people are completing a task. I want to join in and help but often unless I can follow what someone else is doing, it is difficult to know what to do next. If I help I will often do the wrong thing and get in the way but if I dont help then people presume I am lazy.

Often I seem to attract clutter. I read somewhere that because people with dyspraxia are very visual they remember where things are better if they can see them. It is a kind of organised chaos. Certainly if I put things away I often can’t remember where they are.So I think there must be some truth in it. Of course if you live with someone who likes things tidy,it can cause a lot of tension. Its a constant battle for me not to create clutter. My son often complains that he couldn’t stand my computer desk top. I tidy it frequently but some how it always seems to end up cluttered again. My TAFE lecturer has tidied my USB up twice because I had files all over the place. At TAFE on Thursday when I was saving a file she told me she was going to watch me save it to make sure I put it in the correct folder. My mission in life at the moment is to put everything away where it belongs from the start. It really does save a lot of time and effort if I do but it is a work in progress.

I don’t know what the answer is to having a disorganised brain. Certainly putting things straight away will help with clutter. I know I frustrate people because believe me I frustrate myself. Knowing the quickest and easiest way to tackle a task is another matter. I have no idea how to improve this, or if it even can be. If someone else is around then asking their advice will help. This is not always practical as I am often alone. If anyone has any suggestions they will be gratefully received.


A Frustrating Brain

I have returned to studying as a mature age student to try to get myself some skills to get a job. Having dyspraxia means I can’t just go down to Mcdonalds and apply for a job. Being unable to multi-task I would be to slow. I decided to try Information Technology as there are many jobs in this area and I hoped my dyspraxia wouldn’t make it to difficult. I was wrong.

Yesterday I had a very frustrating day. We did an assessment last week and my lecturer said she can see that I have all the skills, but I am to slow. In order to pass I have to be faster. I don’t type very fast and if I try to type faster my lack of co-ordination means I hit the wrong keys.I use all my fingers but I don’t touch type. Touch typing requires spacial awareness, something I unfortunatly struggle with. It is also difficult to find my place when glancing from the instructions to my keyboard. This is not uncommon with dyspraxia but none the less frustrating and time consuming.

It isn’t that I don’t understand the concepts. I am not stupid, but when your brain can only cope with 1 task at a time everything takes longer.Organisation is also a constant struggle, and something I have to remind myself of repeatedly. I know I frustrate people but they should see how frustrating it is to live in my head.

The one thing I do have going for me is determination. I simply refuse to give up. I think God made people with dyspraxia determined because we would never achieve anything if we gave up when the going got tough. Someone once told me that” he admired the way I never give up and it was something he had to work on.” It is still very difficult sometimes to stay positive and tell your self that you are as good as everyone else. Sometimes I concentrate so hard my head hurts. When you have to work twice as hard and twice as long to be half as good as everyone else, you cant help being frustrated. Though the sense of achievement when you do succeed is immense.

If you are a parent or a teacher of a child with dyspraxia, always praise their achievments. It can be very damaging to self esteem when other people do things so easily while you need to try so hard. While there are some things we will never achieve there are many things we can achieve with a lot of hard work.  I will pass this course but I will have to work twice as hard as everyone else to do it. Always remember  disability and stupidity are not the same thing.