While working memory affects how children learn, a deficit in working memory should not be taken as an indicator of low overall intelligence. It is one component of the many factors that comprise intelligence.
Parsippany, NJ (PRWEB) June 25, 2014
There are many reasons that children struggle in the classroom. Their ability to learn is affected by a wide range of emotional and cognitive factors and parents also struggle as they seek to help their children succeed. Some of these children may need help improving their working memory. “Working memory is like a mental workspace,” says Dr. Stacey Spencer, a clinical neuropsychologist with Morris Psychological Group. “It enables us to hold on to information long enough to manipulate it or use it to complete a task. In the classroom, children use working memory when they follow multiple-step instructions, listen to and follow a story, and work with numbers to complete a math problem.” Researchers estimate that the academic performance of as many as 10-15% of children is affected by problems with working memory.
Working memory is transitory but it is not the same as short-term memory, which is only for the temporary storage of information. Working memory temporarily stores information but also organizes and manipulates it. There are two types of working memory:
- Auditory working memory works with information that is heard. Children with weak auditory working memory have difficulty following oral instructions, even when paying attention and fully understanding what has been said. They simply cannot hold onto the instructions long enough to carry them out.
- Visual-spatial working memory uses visualization to hold onto information. It is what we are referring to when we say we keep something “in the mind's eye.” Weakness in visual-spatial working memory often causes trouble with math problems and remembering patterns and images.
“Children may have weakness in one type of working memory and compensate for it with strength in the other,” says Dr. Spencer. “While working memory affects how children learn, a deficit in working memory should not be taken as an indicator of low overall intelligence. It is one component of the many factors that comprise intelligence.”
A child with weak working memory skills may be thought to be inattentive or even to have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. “Children with ADHD generally do have weak working memory,” says Dr. Spencer, “they may also be hyperactive and impulsive. And while other learning disabilities may also be present, for many children it is the working memory alone that needs improvement.” Parents and teachers should be aware of the profile of the child with this weakness, confirm the diagnosis with professional assessment, and take steps to build memory skills and help the child learn based on his strengths.
Recognizing Weak Working Memory
Working memory develops as a child matures so a child's capability should always be assessed relative to her peer group. Some signs of a problem with working memory include:
- Difficulty following instructions with more than one step;
- Losing track in the middle of a task, often abandoning the task before completion;
- Making place-keeping errors (omitting words or numbers, skipping or repeating steps);
- Difficulty retelling a story in his own words.
Improving a Child's Working Memory
To confirm diagnosis, Dr. Spencer recommends assessment by an experienced psychologist, who can also devise a plan to strengthen the child's working memory. There are things parents and teachers can do to help improve working memory skills and also bolster a child's confidence:
- Use your child's strengths to help her learn: If a child's visual-spatial working memory is stronger than auditory working memory, try using visual aids to convey information, for example, by translating a word problem into a simple diagram.
- Break information down into smaller chunks: Avoid overwhelming him with a long list of instructions; present one or two items at a time.
- Play games that enhance memory skills: Simple games in which the child names a group of objects in forward and reverse order can help develop working memory.
- Use technology to advantage: There are computer-based training systems designed to train working memory. A qualified psychologist can help you assess their value. Some video games may also help develop memory.
“Working memory is critical to learning,” Dr. Spencer concludes. “In fact, working memory capacity may be a better predictor of success in school than IQ. A child who seems inattentive or easily distracted may benefit from an assessment that can identify a deficit in this area. Parents and teachers can then do everything possible to help the child fulfill his or her potential.”
Stacey L. Spencer, Ed.D., provides psychotherapy with a cognitive behavioral approach and specializes in neuropsychological assessment of children, adolescents and adults following brain injuries and in connection with attention and learning differences.