What is Working Memory?

Children with poor working memory are often misunderstood. Poor working memory in children leads to attention problems as well as trouble following directions. Working memory is the memory that we use to keep information immediately in mind so that we can complete a task. Adding numbers together in your head or processing driving directions without writing them down are two examples of the ways we use working memory. Essentially, working memory is the “mental workspace” where we manipulate information, perform mental calculations and form new thoughts.

Trouble in the Classroom

Working memory capacity varies from child to child, just as RAM varies from computer to computer. One way to estimate a child’s working memory is to give a verbal instruction such as, “Please give me the blue pencil, then pick up the red eraser and put it in the green box.” Some children might find these instructions simple to follow while others might lose track of the details along the way. Poor working memory often leads to trouble in the classroom as many children with poor working memory appear as though they aren’t paying attention.

Children with poor working memory fail at assigned tasks after repeating or skipping words, letters, numbers or whole steps. Many abandon tasks completely because they are simply unable to keep track of what they are doing. These children may appear lazy or uncooperative when truthfully there is just an underlying problem with working memory.

Math, Language and Reading Comprehension

These problems typically surface in math and also in language. A child with poor working memory might struggle to write sentences. After writing down the first few words, the child may then forget what he or she intended to say next. Reading comprehension is another problem associated with poor working memory as children lose the overall gist of the text after working so hard to decode the written words.

When Listening Becomes a Challenge

Auditory processing weaknesses can adversely affect the development of working memory skills. In the presence of an auditory processing weakness, listening becomes challenging. An individual with an auditory processing weakness has to work at listening, or think to listen, instead of thinking about what they are listening to. When the energy is placed at the level of listening, often comprehension is affected, which in turn affects working memory and perhaps the early building blocks essential for developing a strong working memory. Good listening skills are an important piece in helping to develop a good working memory.

A “Daily Listening Diet”

When auditory processing deficits become a piece of the puzzle, a “daily listening diet” can prove quite helpful. Learn why a daily listening diet is a critical element in remediating an auditory processing problem.