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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.

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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