Helping Kids with ADHD strengthen their Working Memory

(2 min read)

When I was initially learning about executive function in the brain it took me a while to wrap my head around the concepts. So I took each executive function skill and tired to “see” it in real life. Working memory is the ability to hold information in your brain while you work or act on that information. Kids with ADHD can struggle with the working memory. This can look like forgetfulness: you asked them to clean their room or do homework and five minutes later they are wandering around another part of the house playing!

I am going to share with you how I have tried to “see” working memory limitations in kids and then recreate their tasks to make them more doable.

How can we “see” working memory in someone else?

We all know which tasks our kids forget or avoid. But let’s look a little closer to understand why they are forgetting what to do. Maybe it is because their brain can only hold so much information at once. Look at the following list and ask yourself these questions. (alt text in image ID)

Split tasks into smaller pieces and create strategic reminders

Instead of giving a kid with ADHD a “giant” task of “doing their homework” we need to look at each assignment in smaller pieces. Reading a book chapter and answering questions on a worksheet might seem straightforward but it’s made up of tiny micro-tasks. Reading the chapter uses working memory to remember words, their meaning, understanding context, drawing inferences, etc. Then you brain switches to the worksheet and in reading the questions you are trying to understand those words and meaning that your brain cannot simultaneously think of what the book told you. We need to break this task into smaller pieces and then gives the student tools that help them connect the book with the worksheet without relying only on their memory.

Take a look at the following graphics for an example of how to do this plus a few others. (alt text in image ID)

Working memory practice for kids with ADHD. Ask the kid to tell you what steps they know to do to complete the task. Ask how they want to be reminded (verbal, paper list, reminders in the phone, etc.). Ask how often you should check in on them to make sure they stay on task.

Example of working memory practice for kids with ADHD. I know that my toys go in the closet and my backpack goes on the wall hook. But sometimes I forget. Can you make a list and tape it to the wall to remind me where to put everything away? I don't want you to remind me. Just check my room in a hour. And let me know 5 minutes before you are going to check.

Example of working memory practice for kids with ADHD. I know I have to read the chapter in the book and answer questions on the worksheet. But I forget the words after I read them. Have the child read the worksheet and circle the key words. Then when the read have them use sticky notes to mark those same words. The child might ask for the grown-up to sit next to them as they do the homework.

Summary of working memory practice for kids with ADHD. We are teaching the child to be self-aware of what information they can hold in their working memory. We are empowering the child to be independent and create their own strategies. We are demonstrating that we support and trust them by helping and not taking over the task.

Please leave a comment below and let me know if these strategies have been helpful!

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