How ADHD Impacts Working Memory
Working memory is the small amount of information that your mind holds as you’re working to complete a task. Essentially, it is the brain’s short-term storage space where information is taken in, held for a short time while it is processed, and encoded it into useful data. From there, the information is stored in long-term memory. For example, it is the part of your brain that holds a phone number while you’re dialing it.
A 2020 study showed that ADHD impacts working memory in the majority of children who have it. An earlier 2013 research review supported the idea that this impact continues on into adulthood. Because our educational system strongly associates memory and recall with intelligence and learning ability, people with ADHD may be unfairly assessed in terms of what they are capable of learning.
People with ADHD may also encode the information in their working memory in a disorganized fashion, causing it to be processed in such a way that renders it less useful, or so that it does not ever enter long-term memory.
Time perception is also closely linked to working memory and thus ADHD may also impact the way that children’s brains perceive time. This may also explain part of why people with ADHD experience more challenges getting to places on time. Studies have shown that children with ADHD have more difficulty perceiving the difference between a short, medium, and long duration of time.
Helping Your Child Cope with Forgetfulness
Without a strong working memory, it becomes important to develop coping skills and alternative learning strategies that rely less on that function of the brain. These strategies may vary, but below are some recommendations for parents whose ADHD has problems with forgetfulness:
- Remind yourself that forgetfulness is a symptom of ADHD and is not purposeful non-compliance on the part of your child. This will help you be more patient with your child.
- Provide your child with short and clear instructions. Give only one verbal instruction at a time. After this is successfully completed, provide your child with another verbal instruction and so on, until the task is completed.
- When you give your child verbal instructions make sure that you are looking at them and that he is look at you. This clearly puts their attention on what you are saying.
- Ask your child to repeat back the instruction you have given. This will help to clarify if they heard it correctly and assist memorizing the instruction by saying it out loud.
- Be sure to praise your child after completing each task.
- Creating a to-do list, which outlines tasks that your child needs to complete and the order in which it needs to be completed can be very helpful. It is important to remember that to-do lists should be age appropriate.
- Have your child cross off tasks as they are completed. This will provide a sense of accomplishment and control.
- Let your child know that everyone experiences some difficulty with forgetfulness from time to time.
Depending on the age of your child, other tools you might want to consider include:
- Games – Memory and sequencing games such as Concentration, matching games, and Simon Says can help strengthen existing memory skills.
- Mnemonics – Mnenomics involves using little “tricks” to associate new information being learned to information you already know.
- Stimulant medication
At this point in time, there is no way to change your child’s working memory. But providing them with coping strategies can go along way to alleviate the difficulties associated with working memory issues.