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Working Memory Difficulties

Doing a recent diagnostic assessment reminded me of the impact of a weak working memory. The working memory is that part of the brain which holds information briefly while it is being manipulated in some way. If you work with or know someone who appears ‘distractible’ or ‘forgetful’, that person where ‘it’s in one ear and out the other’, there is a good chance that they have issues with their working memory. The important point to remember is that they are not distracted because they do not care about what you are telling them, or they do not forget the list of things they were asked to do because they could not be bothered. The act of trying to do the first one or two items on that list has meant that they have quite literally lost the rest of the details from their working memory. Once information has gone from the working memory then it cannot be retrieved, the whole process has to be started again.

A very easy way to support a child with working memory issues is to only ask them to do one or two things at a time and to be prepared to repeat instructions as often as needed. Try not to get angry with them for having to repeat things, this will make them reluctant to ask for help in the future. In fact, praise them for asking what to do next, it’s better that they get help to carry on with an activity and complete it successfully.

The book “Working Memory &Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers” by Susan Gathercole and Tracy Packiam Alloway, is very readable and has straightforward suggestions for support.

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