ADHD and Memory

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

“Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain-based disorder that results in significant inattention, hyperactivity, distractibility, or a combination of these characteristics.” Many learning disabilities, including dyslexia and ADHD, are “linked both to heredity (genetics) as well as to brain structure and function.”Estimates are that about one-third of kids with learning disabilities also have ADHD. Dyslexics are not an exception.

The Mayo Clinic provides a comprehensive list of ADHD signs and symptoms, but also points out that if the child’s attention-related concerns do not occur both at home and at school (or with friends), the problem could be other than an attention deficit.

Some of the ADHD signs and symptoms are:

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Frequently daydreaming
  • Difficulty following through on instructions and apparently not listening
  • Problems organizing tasks or activities
  • Forgetful and loses needed items, such as books, pencils, and toys
  • Fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or other tasks
  • Easily distracted
  • Frequently fidgets or squirms
  • Difficulty remaining seated and seemingly in constant motion
  • Excessively talkative
  • Frequently interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or games
  • Frequently has trouble waiting for their turn.

 

Help students with attention issues by minimizing distractions:

  • Move the student away from distracting peers, open hallways, and open doors.
  • Create a workspace for the student that limits visual distractions.
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones to minimize auditory distractions.
  • Use well-designed computer-assisted learning programs that stimulate attention, limit the current task at hand to only what’s on the screen, and provide immediate feedback.
  • For paper-and-pencil tasks, use blank index cards to form a frame that blocks out unnecessary information on the page.


Taking care of physical health can have an impact on attention issues:

  • Drink more water. Because the brain is 80 percent water, adequate hydration helps many brain functions.
  • Watch “junk” intake. For some children, attention improves with the removal from their diet of artificial dyes and preservatives, sugar, sugar substitutes, and caffeine. Also limit processed foods.
  • Adequate rest. Make sure the child has enough rest to be at their best, since attention, as many challenges, worsens when the student is tired. 
  • Exercise. Getting oxygen flowing to the brain is important for attention and learning.

Many students diagnosed with ADHD are actually exhibiting symptoms of another, less widely diagnosed challenge. Working-memory deficits often get missed because they look a lot like attention problems. ADHD and memory are often closely linked.

 

Working Memory

Attention lets information be taken in. Working memory allows the brain to hold on to information long enough to process it and make sense of it. Many students with learning struggles have challenges with attention, working memory, or both. At the Harvard Learning Differences Conference it was noted that working memory, attention, and executive function are closely linked cognitive functions that are “interwoven in a complex system of neural networks [that] are crucial to the learning process.” This is one reason that working-memory disorders are often mistaken for attention disorders. Many concerns related to ADHD and memory are closely connected. On the flip side, many of the same supports that help improve attention disorders also help improve working memory and other executive functions.
Working memory involves the brain manipulating information in some way to make use of it. When too many pieces of information come at the child all at once, they can shut down, explode, or express their overwhelming anxiety in other ways. A computer has a working memory as well. When it gets too many bits of data across its circuitry, it slows down or can lock up. When that happens, the computer needs to reboot. It is no different for a child.

How do you know if your child has memory issues? A child can be constrained by their working-memory capacity if they:

  • Are easily distracted when working on or doing something that is not highly interesting
  • Have trouble waiting their turn, for example in a conversation or when waiting in line
  • Struggle with reading comprehension and have to read through texts repeatedly to understand
  • Struggle with problem-solving that requires holding information in mind; for example, mental math calculations
  • Are inconsistent in remembering math facts
  • Struggle with completing tasks, especially tasks with multiple steps
  • Have difficulty remembering long instructions given in several steps; for example, following recipes, directions, or school/work assignments
  • Struggle to understand the context in a story or a conversation
  • Have difficulties when planning and organizing something that needs to be done in separate steps
  • Have difficulty staying focused during cognitively demanding tasks, but attend well when cognitive demands are minimal
  • Have difficulty integrating new information with prior knowledge
  • When called on, forget what they were planning to say
  • Have difficulty taking notes and listening at the same time


These problems can all be related to working-memory issues! At Wings to Soar we offer an online solution that boosts working-memory skills. Cogmed Working Memory Training exercises help increase the number of pieces of information the memory can retain at one time. Students using Cogmed see improvement in areas that have previously been thought of as attention problems. We also offer Fast ForWord and BrainWare SAFARI, which address working memory and attention as a portion of the cognitive skills addressed.

See also the article on Improving Executive Function

Improving executive function

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