What does cleaning the bathroom have to do with limited attention and working memory? In our house, everything! A minimum of 10 steps needs to be done to clean the bathroom. If you have problems with working memory, you may struggle to remember all the steps in the task. The result maybe this time the floor isn’t cleaned and new towels aren’t put out, but next time maybe the toilet isn’t clean and the mirror still dirty. Each week the consequence of limited attention and weak working memory in my house results in a half cleaned bathroom.
Working memory is the ability to store and manage immediate short-term information while attention is the ability to notice something or stay focused on something. Both working memory and attentional control are part of executive function skills which children are developing. The description of the bathroom being cleaned is normal at 10 but not so much at 16 if a child has been cleaning the bathroom for all those years.
Many children with ADHD have working memory deficits, so they need to learn to compensate. Some children might have exceptional visual memory or auditory memory. Using visual or auditory cues can help, but often the child has to be taught to use those strengths to compensate for their weaknesses. Yes, lists can be posted everywhere in a house, but if a child doesn’t look at them they are not helpful. Some children resist using strategies because they feel that other kids aren’t using them, so they seem to refuse to use them. Getting them to use strategies can be a challenge. If home, school, and other instructions are aligned in the message that strategies are necessary for successful learning, most students can learn to successfully apply strategies to help with limited attention and weak working memory skills.