Cleaning the Bathroom: Compensating for Working Memory Deficits

What does cleaning the bathroom have to do with working memory? In our house everything. In order to clean the bathroom, a minimum of 8-10 tasks needs to be done. If you have problems with working memory, you may struggle to remember all the tasks only managing to complete a few of the tasks at a given time even after being reminded for years. Working memory is the ability to store and manage short-term information.

Right now my daughter is trying to remember C major, C minor, and C harmonic scales, but she is struggling with remembering finger placement for the minor scale. Her problem is an inadequate working memory. Many children with ADHD have working memory deficits, so they need to learn to compensate.

For my daughter, she has an exceptional visual memory, so we use lots of visual cues. Yes, lists are everywhere in our house even in the bathroom with the steps to clean the bathroom. It’s not a foolproof method and part of the challenge is getting her to understand that it is in her best interests to use strategies. For years she thought using strategies was cheating and refused, but once the school, music instruction, and home aligned in the message that strategies are necessary for successful learning she begins using them.

Now, how can she learn to use her superior visual memory to help compensate for her poor working memory? She is 16, not likely to participate in my experiments, but I am going to at least offer a suggestion. Try marking the spot for finger placement. Practice playing while looking at your finger placement to encode that position into visual memory, then practice more without looking at your fingers.

Okay, so she was feeling desperate and tried my suggestion. Can you believe a 16-year-old actually listened to her mother? It’s amazing what desperation will do? She has a video evaluation due for those scales in 25 minutes. This is why music is so valuable? Music teaches executive function skills in a way that most school programs do not. Memorization, self-evaluation, problem-solving is embedded in good music instruction, but the trick is to keep your child with ADHD in a good music program if they decide they feel they are not a musician, but music offers many opportunities to build executive function skills and practice compensating for learning weaknesses.


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