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Working Memory and ADHD: Effects & Effective Strategies

A child, with furrowed brows, tries earnestly to remember something important
Table of Contents

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is one of the brain’s primary executive functions. It is the skill that helps our body function with information and not lose track of the task that we are performing. It is what helps us remember what we need to do and keep track of conversations.

To explain better, the working memory can be compared to a temporary sticky note within the brain. It retains all kinds of new information to help the brain work with it for a brief span of time and connect with other relevant information.

It is a part of the brain’s short-term memory and can sometimes lead to short-term memory deficits if derailed. However, it must not be compared to mental disorders.

There are three main components of the working memory:

Phonological loop

The phonological loop is a crucial component of the working memory model proposed by Baddeley and Hitch. It primarily deals with auditory information and is responsible for temporarily holding and manipulating verbal and auditory data. The phonological loop consists of two main components:

  1. Phonological Store: This component is linked to speech perception and holds auditory information, such as words or sounds, for a short duration, typically one or two seconds.
  2. Articulatory Control Process: This part is associated with speech production and acts like an inner voice, allowing individuals to rehearse and repeat the information stored in the phonological store. It enables us to maintain verbal information in our working memory.

For example, when you hear a phone number and mentally repeat it to yourself to remember it before dialing, this effort relies on the phonological loop.

Visuospatial sketchpad

This helps us remember visual and spatial information. Since the phonological loop and sketchpad work separately, we can be talking on the phone and simultaneously drawing a picture in our head.

Central Executive

This coordinates all the different components of the working memory and controls what we focus on and how we use the information that is stored in our short-term memory.

Children and Working Memory

Children use their working memory in a number of different activities, such as problem-solving, completing math problems, following directions, and learning new information.

Additionally, working memory has an important part to play in the things that children are asked to do in school.

Working memory is generally related to learning outcomes in maths and reading. Problems with working memory often lead to children having difficulty paying attention and focusing in class, as well as retaining new information.

Apart from this, it can also prove to be beneficial in social situations for children. It can help them to better understand conversations and remember the details of previous interactions.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that impacts how a person behaves, thinks, and feels. It can cause problems with focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

There are three main types of ADHD: Predominantly Inattentive Type, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, and Combined Type.

What Causes Working Memory Problems?

kid sad trying to remember something

Working memory is an integral part of our life and how we perform our daily tasks. It is a cognitive function that helps us to interact with our surroundings.

A number of different things can lead to problems with a person’s working memory. One of the most common causes is ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can affect a person’s ability to focus, stay on task, and remember information.

Other causes of working memory problems can include:

How is Working Memory ADHD Diagnosed?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosing working memory problems for children with working memory deficits. A healthcare professional will take a number of things into account when making a diagnosis, such as a person’s medical history and symptoms.

Some working memory tests that may be used to help diagnose working memory problems include:

  • Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS)
  • Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales (CAARS)
  • Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS)

Why do Children With ADHD Have Difficulty With Working Memory?

ADHD generally affects different children in different ways. While there are times when there is nothing wrong with their short-term, or long-term memory, the problem often arises when they need to manipulate this memory to perform a certain task.

  • For children with ADHD, their working memory is often impaired because of the following:
  • They have trouble focusing and staying on task
  • The information they are trying to remember is in conflict with other distractions in their environment
  • They have difficulty inhibiting impulses and are more likely to act on them without thinking them through first
  • Their brain is constantly moving and they have trouble calming down long enough to focus on a specific task
  • They are more creative compared to typically developing peers and think in a non-linear fashion, which can make following instructions or completing tasks that require a specific order more difficult

Are there specific strategies or solutions for managing noise sensitivity in individuals with ADHD?

Noise sensitivity is a common challenge for individuals with ADHD. Understanding adhd noise sensitivity causes and solutions can greatly assist in managing this issue. Strategies such as creating a quiet environment, utilizing noise-cancelling headphones, and implementing structured routines can help individuals with ADHD better cope with noise sensitivity.

Strategies To Help Develop Working Memory In Children

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best strategies for improving working memory will vary from child to child.

However, there are a few general things that can be done to help a child with ADHD improve their working memory skills:

Play games that involve visual memory

There are a number of visual games that can help your kids improve their visual memory skills. Try playing games like “I Spy”, “20 Questions”, or “Memory”. You can also give your child a magazine and ask them to circle certain words or pictures for better visual working memory.

Practice focusing on a specific task for a set amount of time

One way to help improve focus and working memory are to have your child practice focusing on a specific task for a set amount of time.

This can be done by having them complete a task such as puzzles, Sudoku, or reading for a specific amount of time without taking any breaks.

Make a list of tasks and check things off

This is a great way to help kids with ADHD stay organized and on track. Have them make a list of tasks to complete and then check things off as they are completed. You can also help them by breaking down bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.

Use a timer

Using a timer can be a great way to help kids with ADHD stay on task. Have them set the timer for a specific amount of time and then work until the timer goes off. Once they have finished the task, give them a break.

Know your child’s limit

It is important to know your child’s limits when it comes to working on a task. If they start to get overwhelmed or frustrated, take a break and come back to the task later. Keeping a thread on how often they start to lose the thread, will help in the long-term working memory span.

For instance, if you see your child has difficulty following multi-step directions, you might want to work on tasks such as teaching them how to tie their shoes or complete a jigsaw puzzle. If your child has trouble with remembering facts and figures, you might want to try practicing multiplication tables or reading out loud from a history book.

The important thing is to find out what specifically is challenging for your child and then work on tasks that will help improve those skills.

Encourage active reading

Active reading is a great way to help improve working memory skills in children. Have them read out loud, take notes while they are reading, or underline important points. You can also have them summarize what they have just read.

Use flashcards

Flashcards are a great way to help kids learn and remember new information. Have your child make flashcards for new words they are learning, math facts, or history questions.

This will make sure that the child with memory difficulties is actively engaged in the learning process and will help improve their working memory skills.

Provide structure

Children with ADHD need structure and routine in their lives. This can help them stay focused and organized. Try to have a set schedule for homework, chores, and bedtime.

It is also important to praise your child for completing tasks and being productive. This will help boost their self-esteem and encourage them to continue working hard.

Stay organized

This is a skill that will help kids with ADHD throughout their lives. Help your child stay organized by giving them a place to keep their school supplies, homework, and toys. You can also help them by setting a specific time each day for homework and making a list of things they need to do each day.

Divide information into smaller bits

When teaching new information to a child with ADHD symptoms, it is important to divide the information into smaller bits. This will help them stay focused and remember the information better.

You can also use visual aids, such as graphs and charts, to help explain new concepts.

Take breaks

It is important for kids with ADHD to take breaks when working on a task. This will help them stay focused and avoid getting overwhelmed or frustrated due to poor working memory. The idea of brain breaks is something that we Occupational Therapists highly advocate for.

Breaks can be in the form of a short break to get up and move around, or a longer break to do something fun and relaxing.

Whenever possible, try to work with your child’s natural body clock. For example, if they are more energetic in the morning, have them do their homework then. If they are more tired in the evening, have them save their tougher tasks for then.

This will help make sure they are getting the most out of their work time and will help reduce distractions.

Let your child teach you

Kids with ADHD are often very good at coming up with new and innovative ideas. Let them teach you things they are interested in, such as how to program a computer or build a model car.

This will help them feel empowered and will give them a sense of accomplishment. It will also help improve their problem-solving skills.


Kids with ADHD can have a lot of success if they are given the right tools and support. By using some of the tips we have outlined in this article backed by professional medical advice, you can help your child improve their working memory skills and reach their full potential.


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How ADHD contributes to memory problems. How ADHD Contributes to Memory Problems: THINK Neurology for Kids: Pediatric Neurology. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from

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