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Symptoms of Working Memory Issues

Signs of a Working Memory Deficit by Age and Type

Working memory is a core executive function role that closely correlates to both IQ and to attention stamina. Therefore, a working memory deficit can have an outsized impact on long-term learning outcomes.

Working memory is a complex function essential for comprehension, learning and reasoning that draws on the several parts of the brain, including the frontal cortex and parietal cortex. Because working memory is a background skill, symptoms of difficulties can be hard to identify. If your child exhibits any of the symptoms below, seek help — the gains from better working memory function can be significant.

Checklist for Working Memory Deficit Symptoms

When looking for working memory disorder symptoms, first be sure you understand what you are looking for.  Working memory is the part of the cognitive system that is responsible for the transient holding, processing, and manipulation of information. Here is a more complete definition.

If your child exhibits 2-3 of these behaviors in this checklist of a working memory disorder, there may be some cause for concern:

  • A need to re-read text
  • Difficulty following multi-step directions
  • Difficulty staying engaged in class
  • Test anxiety, especially on multiple choice tests
  • A need for more time and repetition
  • Inconsistent performance
  • Lack of focus and attention deficit disorders

Several of these working memory-specific symptoms are associated with multiple learning diagnoses, and indication of how critical working memory is to many learning abilities.

Learning Efficiency
Academic success is dependent on a number of skills working at a high level, many of which involve working memory: for instance, being able to retain information in class, reading with comprehension, and attention stamina. Our learning software is effective in reducing the time spent on homework and improving grades, because it helps in these various areas.

Attention Deficits
Poor working memory skills impacts attention because if students cannot hold information as it is coming at them, it is harder to engage. These children tend to be more easily distracted and are often diagnosed as having inattentive ADD.

Reading & Dyslexia
Several of the working memory disorder symptoms above impact reading — both in learning to decode, and in reading efficiency for comprehension. Most of the time in reading though, the true difficulty is phonological awareness. An inability to retain text while reading is more often than not due to inefficient and exhausting decoding, not due to a working memory deficit. Our reading programs target both issues.

Working Memory Development By Age

Working memory, sometimes called short-term memory, develops over time like other cognitive abilities:

  • Executive functions like “talking through something” in children initially are conducted aloud, but by age six begin to be internalized to subvocal and finally silent modes by age 9-10.
  • Recall for single units of spatial information (e.g., where on a screen a single dot appears) develops at age 11-12.
  • Recall for multiple units of spatial information (e.g., a sequence of dots tapped by the examiner) develops around age 13-15.
  • Self-organized strategies (finding hidden dots with an efficient strategy) develops around age 16-17.

Improving working memory is one of the major targets of quite a few cognitive software programs and online exercises.  It is certainly a key focus of Fast ForWord, the training software used by Gemm Learning. Generally we are able to reduce the symptoms of poor working memory after just a few months of training.

Working memory disorders related to longer term memory function can also lead to attention deficits and other learning disabilities. Learn about the longer term memory types .

symptoms of working memory problems



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