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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.



Sharon Beaumont

I am a single mother of 4 who has lived with dyspraxia for several decades. My hope is that by sharing my experiences I can help to raise awareness of dyspraxia. I trained as an Education Assistant but found some areas of this to be a difficult career if you have dyspraxia. Currently I am an Information Technology Student and am trying to teach my self to speak French. I love travel, writing and anything French.

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