Symptom Tests

[Self-Test] Could Your Child Have a Working Memory Deficit?

Working memory, a component of executive functioning, is where your child stores information he or she needs to complete a task. A working memory deficit could explain his difficulty working out math problems in his head or with reading retention.

Working memory, often referred to as short-term memory, is part of executive functioning skills. Think of working memory as a small table. On it you place your thoughts, ideas, and information you need to store to use in a related task. The table in your mind used for working memory can only hold so many items. As you add bits of information, the table becomes full. Then, when you add another item, something falls off, forgotten. It is why your child forgets why he went upstairs (maybe to clean his room) or why he forgets to hand in his homework. The thought — “Hand in my homework” — was right there, on the table. But then the table filled up — with thoughts of friends, getting to class on time, or the video game he played last night. The original thought of “hand in my homework” fell off the table and was quickly forgotten.

Deficits in working memory can also explain why a child has difficulty working out math problems in his head or with reading retention. Reading retention requires you to remember what you read in the previous paragraph and relate it to the one you just read. But, if the first paragraph slid off the table, your child might need to start over, reread, and try to remember.

Working memory tends to strengthen as a child matures (his brain can hold more items on the table), but someone with working memory deficits as a child might always experience them. Besides strengthening memory skills, external strategies such as writing lists can help.

This self-test is designed to determine whether your child shows symptoms similar to those from a working memory deficit. If you have concerns about possible working memory problems, see a health professional. An accurate diagnosis can only be made through clinical evaluation. This self-test is for personal use only.

Your child misplaces pencils, crayons, workbook, homework papers, books, and any other item that isn’t attached to her. 

1 out of 10

You ask your child who he played with at school. He remembers playing tag but not the names of the children he played with.

2 out of 10

Your child has a hard time retelling the story that you just read to her and skips key details.

3 out of 10

Your child forgets to bring home the materials and books needed to complete a homework assignment.

4 out of 10

Your child has difficulty staying on task. She is easily sidetracked moving from one activity to another, without finishing any of them.

5 out of 10

You ask your child to go upstairs, straighten his room, and bring his laundry down to the basement. He goes upstairs, gets distracted, and can’t remember what he was supposed to do next.

6 out of 10

You ask your child to wait while you finish a phone call before he tells you something important. By the time you finish, he’s forgotten what he wanted to say.

7 out of 10

Your child has difficulty remembering all the steps required to solve a multi-step math or word problem.

8 out of 10

Your child has difficulty keeping in mind all the elements required to participate in a team sport. 

9 out of 10

During parent-teacher conferences, you are told that your child doesn’t listen or follow instructions.

10 out of 10

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Working Memory Deficits: Next Steps

1. Learn How to Help Children with Working Memory Deficits
2. Read 15 Memory Exercises for Forgetful Kids
3. Take This Test: Does My Child Have ADHD?
4. Take This Test: Does My Child Have Dyslexia?
5. Take This TestGeneralized Anxiety Disorder in Children 
6. Explore: Memory Games to Play at Home

Updated on January 31, 2020

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