Working Memory?

What is working memory?

Chaos runs rampant in this family. Mornings affect their entire day. This morning is a bad one. Books fly across the room and I hate you yelled randomly increases stress and anxiety of the Smith family.
The Smith family, a daughter, 2 sons, a dog, and a single mother. struggle daily. Joey the youngest child is protected, loved, and spoiled. Joey is captivating with his bright green eyes, raven black hair, and ivory skin. He is a little thin for his age; however, he is a normal and healthy 7-year-old in the 2nd grade. Joey has a diagnosis of anxiety due to sensory processing makes life unique and challenging to his family. Adding to his struggle is a learning disability of dyslexia. Every day seems to revolve around Joey and his needs evoking jealousy, anger, and failure differently in each family member.

Joey’s learning disability affects his working memory and the way he processes directions, communication, and information which can impact his mornings. This morning is bad causing fear and disappointment with underlining concern from his mother. Her unanswered question, did I do something wrong?

Most mornings she could not decide if she was a mean mother, overprotective mother, or just a tired mom. She loves her children but some days it was challenging to get their day started. Remembering all the senses and actions which could make their day good or bad. Will she cause, Joey to have a meltdown, forget her other children’s needs, or just give up.

“Joooey! Hey, are you ready for school? We have to leave now. Grab your backpack, be sure your lunch is in it. What happened to your homework?” She looks around and remembers it’s Friday morning! “Wait we did not go over your spelling word- SPELL kitten. Joey starts to pace, rub his face, anxiety running high for everyone in the room. Waiting quietly, breathing deeply, with racing thoughts-hoping no one has a meltdown and they can leave and get to school on time mom steps back to dodge the flying books Joey just threw across the room.

Joey’s eyes widen, his face turns red, and fists clinched – a meltdown- yelling, crying, and running around rubbing his face due to anxiety. He threw the book and began to yell ” I hate you!” Adding to the chaos and fear she grabs his arm hoping to stop his running around the kitchen. This action sets off a series of events causing the entire family to react negatively and Joey to become violent. Joey is scared. His siblings are angry. Mom begins to cry. Their morning is stressful leading to the added stress of being late, trying to calm Joey down, and giving the other children the support and encouragement they need to turn this morning around.

Working memory and short term memory are a way we hold and store memory used for immediate use. Short-term memory is used for the short term which is about 20 seconds. Short-term memory is what we are thinking about right away. It is also called primary or active memory. It is related to the amount of information you can hold and recall. For example, reviewing your child’s spelling words or asking him to get ready for school. These memories can be sensory data: sensory memory or active memory attaches a sense to a specific task or memory. Our working memory holds data that can be rerouted and stored in our long-term memory for later use. Short-term memory can hold phone numbers or chunks of information to be used by our working memory. When using chunking our mind can retain 7 plus or minus 2 numbers or bits of information. Asking your child to complete a 3-4-part task will help increase his short term memory for example: pick up your clothes, throw them in the hamper, and put on new clothes. Clumping instructions or information together while accessing long-term memory makes these tasks possible. The child may repeat the clumps of information to complete the task the way we repeat phone numbers or a recipe’s ingredients until it is in our long term memory which allows us to retrieve it as needed. In a nutshell, short term memory focuses on one thing- like the phone number you need to remember so you can hang up and dial it. Working memory is just that memory that is working.

Joey’s circuits were overloaded and he meltdown. The way our computer will freeze when we push too many buttons and can’t wait for it to think. Joey was given commands to do this morning while eating breakfast and his siblings were moving around the room. This activity demanded his attention, focus and short-term memory. He did not have time to recalibrate and take in the directions his mother gave. tipping point, the spelling words taxing his working-memory. The touch turned up his physical sense. That touch drew all his attention to a hand on him, the feelings of her hand, and the emotions related to being touched when he was not prepared and causing a meltdown.
Once the meltdown is over he can focus. When allowed to focus on one task at a time, he can complete them. He may focus on his siblings and their emotional state which will affect his ability to calm down quickly. To help with focus and elevate bad mornings and meltdowns Joey may benefit from large motor activities. These will help him understand his proprioceptive sense (body awareness) and become grounded. These types of exercises will also increase his working memory allowing him to take in multiple commands or directions for their morning routine.

Working memory is the ability to pull up and manipulate or work something you need for a short time frame- the rules of a game or what someone is saying. It is memory in motion; for example, playing a game and listening to your teacher or parent. A child may struggle with working memory which may hinder his ability to stay focused or multi-task. Working memory will need to be restored into long-term memory or it will be forgotten.

Working memory is directly related to spelling and reading comprehension. It affects the way you learn which is related to complex tasks that involve reasoning, planning, and problem-solving. It is the place where our memory has to manipulate information and transfer it from short term, sensory, working, and long term. Working memory is the place our information comes in and moves around or is forgotten.

Children who need to retrieve pieces of information such as numbers backward and forward may struggle if they have poor working memory. This will be seen in listening to the teacher, repeating numbers or letters forward and backward, understanding the order of operations, or comprehension. This would be understanding the story the teacher is reading, identifying the main concepts, and the ability to report them when asked a question. The child with working memory struggles will have a hard time to listen to the story and answering the sequence of events. With math, it would be remembering the order of operations while using it at the same time. So this would be like the child who is trying to remember his multiplication facts and understanding a story problem which requires him to use the formula.

Sensory memory is iconic memory (visual) and echoic memory (sound). Children may use visual or verbal cues for attaching instructions to their working memory and later to long-term memory which can be retrieved when needed. Verbal cues affect reading comprehension. Visual cues are used for patterns, math, and sequencing. Low working memory has been related to learning disabilities. Low working memory is determined when the child is given an IQ test or language assessment. The raw number given at the time of testing is not absolute. It can increase as the child develops his working memory and short-term memory. 

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