You tell your child with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) or learning disabilities to finish his snack and start his homework, only to find him a few minutes later shooting baskets in the driveway. You assume that he got distracted or, worse, chose to ignore you. In truth, it might be his memory that's to blame -- and forgetfulness can cause school problems for children with ADHD and learning disabilities.
Many children with ADHD have trouble with their working memory -- the ability to keep information in mind so it's available for use. Some also have a hard time with retrieval, the process of reclaiming information that has been stored away.
Of course, our kids also struggle with attention, which is a prerequisite for memory. Both are essential for learning and for academic success.
Keeping info "online"
Working memory allows a student to follow directions, to remember a question while raising her hand to answer it, and to hold on to new information she needs to apply to her work.
In reading, working memory aids our comprehension, making it possible to organize and summarize the text and connect it with what we already know. In writing, it lets us juggle the thoughts we want to get on paper while keeping the big picture in mind. In math, working memory lets us keep track of numbers and operations throughout the steps of a problem.
The stronger a child's working memory -- the longer she can retain and work with new material -- the better her chance of remembering it, for the next hour, the next day, or longer.
Gaining access to the files
Does it sometimes seem that your child no longer knows something he once had down pat? His problem may be that of retrieving information - pulling it out of long-term memory. Without the ability to build on material learned in the past - vocabulary words, math facts, the sequence of events in the Civil War - learning new material is frustrating and slow.
Children with learning disorders may have trouble accessing particular types of information. A child with dyslexia may be slow to remember words he's read before, making it necessary for him to sound them out each time. A child with a writing disorder may forget the rules of grammar and syntax; a student with an arithmetic deficit may draw a blank on the multiplication tables. If your child has ADD and learning disabilities, both may affect memory in ways that interfere with learning.
Helping your child hone her memory can go a long way toward improving her performance at school.
Provide a place to study that's free of noise, interruptions, and tempting distractions, like the television or the toy box. The material your child needs to learn should be the most interesting thing around.
Let your child know when he's about to hear information he needs to retain. You can say, "I want you to remember this," or "Put on your thinking cap."
Provide a count of the details to be remembered. You might say, "There are 10 new vocabulary words. Five are verbs related to transportation, and five are adjectives that describe speed."
Provide a framework for information. Help your child see how new material is relevant to her life or related to things she already knows. In math, for instance, create word problems to show how subtraction can help her determine how much candy her allowance can buy. If a science lesson focuses on how animals adapt to their environment, remind her that whales have blubber to protect them from the cold, and chameleons change color to blend in with their surroundings.