Working memory is an executive function that is often impaired in folks with ADHD. It is somewhat like the clipboard on your computer. It’s a place for storage of information that you’ll be using in the short term. Perhaps you need to remember a phone number but can’t write it down. That seven to ten-digit number will stay in your working memory long enough for you to dial it. Then the next piece of information you need to remember and use will replace it. The working memory of a typically developing child reaches full capacity when the child is 14 or 15, but a child (or adult) with ADHD may have a significantly smaller capacity.

Some of the most challenging behaviors associated with ADHD come about because of poor working memory, and some of them look like this:

A father tells his child three things to do before going to bed. None one of them is accomplished. The next morning is off to an unpleasant start as a result, because the child’s failure to comply looks like disobedience. But if the child has a challenge of working memory, it could be that there is little or no memory of the request ever having been made.

Or this:

A student is given an assignment involving three or four steps that have to be kept in mind in order for the assignment to be completed properly. If the student has working memory challenges, he may fail to finish or only partially complete the tasks. The teacher is frustrated and the student is confused.

To address this challenge of ADHD it is first essential to identify and understand it as a brain-based problem. This helps everyone involved move from a blaming mindset to a solution-seeking mindset. Then adaptations can be made. For example, the number of parts of the assignment could be reduced, or the instructions could be written down so that the individual with ADHD can succeed and feel a well-deserved sense of accomplishment.

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