ADHD and Working Memory (English)

Learn what working memory is, and see how a teacher’s instructions are interpreted by a typical child, and a child with ADHD. For more information, visit:
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ADHD: Communicating with your child’s school: />________________________________________­___________
This video is provided for general information only. It does not replace a diagnosis or medical advice from a healthcare professional who has examined your child and understands their unique needs. Please speak with your doctor to check if the content is suitable for your situation.

Cette vidéo sert à donner des renseignements généraux seulement. Elle ne remplace pas le diagnostic ou les conseils médicaux d’un professionnel de la santé qui a examiné votre enfant et comprend ses besoins uniques. Veuillez consulter votre médecin pour vérifier si le contenu convient à votre situation.


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Working memory is often referred to as an active mental workspace. It’s a cognitive system that allows us to hold and manipulate information online for a few seconds during problem-solving or other cognitive activities. And it’s his internal representation in working memory that we use to guide our decision-making, so that behaviour and actions are not dominated by immediate
sensory cues in the environment. By contrast, long-term memory is often referred to as a filing system for a more stable or longer-term storage of information. And typically cues in the environment or in working memory trigger the need to rapidly retrieve information from long-term memory and bring it into working memory along with other types of information.
Conversely, information in working memory may be reorganized and encoded back into long-term memory. Here’s what might happen when a teacher gives instructions out of order and they are interrupted:
“Okay students. Take a look at your math worksheet. Note there are addition and subtraction questions. Make sure you don’t use the wrong sign and remember I want to see how you solve the problems”. “Children in a band, please note that band practice will be in a gym at 12 noon”. “Oh and before you start, remember to put your name and the date on the top of your worksheet”. This is an illustration of working memory in a typically developing child. As the first instruction is given the student retrieves relevant information from long-term memory to hold online in working memory. Now the student interprets and generates internal representation of the teachers rather complex instructions and holds those online. With the PA announcement the student extracts critical information and stores it in long-term memory for later use and protects the existing information in working memory from interference.
This is an illustration of working memory in a student with ADHD. First it’s important to remember that the student with ADHD may have a smaller working memory capacity to begin with. First, the student’s effective response to the history of repeated difficulties with math takes up valuable space in working memory. His slower processing speed impedes the translation of complex instruction, so he tries to hold them on line verbatim. But the PA announcement has tipped the scales. He’s on cognitive overload. Unable to block this irrelevant information which triggers retrieval of other information – where’s my drum? – and relevant information is lost from working memory. Moreover, there’s no room for those final instructions about details about name and date. So he is left with the Gestalt of the task – no details – with irrelevant information online that could disturb his performance.

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