Memory is a broad term with many sides to it. Simply put, it is generally accepted that the process of memory involves experiencing information with our senses, encoding it into our minds, storing it, and then retrieving it. To forget something means there was a disruption somewhere along the way.
The act of learning happens in the same process. Take for example, learning how to play a new song on the piano. You experience it by hearing it and playing it for the first time. Then you encode it into your mind by rehearsing or listening to it again. It’s stored in your memory and then next time you sit down at the keyboard, you can play it at least a little bit better than you could after the first time you heard it.
The similarity makes memory an essential process to look at when diagnosing and understanding learning disabilities. One area of memory is verbal learning; that is, remembering spoken information. Oyler, Obrzut, and Asbjornsen (2012) examined verbal memory in adolescents with learning disabilities in order to better understand the way their brain processes information and what parts of their memory might be making reading difficult for them.
The researchers used the memorizing of word lists to investigate the different parts of memory mentioned above, such as inputting words into memory, storing them, and then being able to recall as many as possible. The results of their study revealed that students with learning disabilities (particularly in reading), had most difficulty in the initial learning of the words, as opposed to being able to retrieve them from their memory. So when it comes to learning, teens with learning disabilities are having more difficulty with getting information into their memory.
Often we think that our kids with learning disabilities just need to “catch up” in reading or math, but studies such as this one show that there are parts of the learning process that may need to be different. This study in particular suggests a few ways to help teens to have good strategies for learning.
For some teens, learning a new concept is a difficult task, but studies like this tell us that by being creative and flexible in our approach to memory, they can be confident that learning is possible.
By Kristi MacDonald
Oyler, J. D., Obrzut, J. E., & Asbjornsen, A. E. (2012). Verbal learning and memory functions in adolescents with reading disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(3), 184-195. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1114699703?accountid=14569
Cities like Winnipeg seem to come alive in the summer. As soon as spring hits, we jump at the chance to wear sandals and put away our down-filled parkas. Gradually, the sidewalks and fields dry out and we dust off the running shoes and bikes, anxious to enjoy every moment of warm sunshine. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents. There are many physical benefits to activity and exercise, as well as emotional and mental health benefits.
A number of studies have investigated the impact of exercise on focus and attention, finding that regular exercise has a positive impact on children’s ability to attend to new information (also known as working memory). Working memory and attention are areas of thinking that are core difficulties for children and teenagers with ADHD. A recent study by Ziereis and Jansen (2015) looked at the effect that physical activity has on children with a diagnosis of ADHD and whether it changed their performance on working memory tasks.
Children aged 7 to 12 were assigned to three groups, a control group (who were on a waitlist for the program), a group who participated in various activities such as swimming, climbing, and gymnastics, and a group who did focussed skills such as balance training, throwing and catching, and juggling. The latter two groups participated in activities once a week for 12 weeks. The researchers measured working memory/attention performance before and after the programs and found a significant improvement for those who participated in either physical activity program, but no difference for children in the control group.
The study tells us three important things:
1. Physical activity has a positive effect on attention-related skills in children with ADHD. Getting out and doing a sport or training for just an hour each week was enough to boost working memory ability. Working memory is essential for remembering new information and also for understanding it.
2. The type of physical activity doesn’t seem to matter; that is, kids don’t necessarily need specific skill training in order for it to improve their working memory. Some kids enjoy the drills and practices of soccer camp, others might prefer to splash around in the pool, but either will be a benefit to their ability to learn.
3. It is important for exercise to be continuous. Ziereis and Jansen did look at whether attention improved after just one week and found that it was the same as prior to the activity. So it’s more than just going for a run before a test, make physical activity a regular and continuous habit to reap the most benefits.
Summer is a great time to get started with new activities and sports, and continuing into fall and winter will give kids with ADHD a big advantage when they get back to school.
By Kristi MacDonald
Ziereis, S., & Jansen, P. (2015). Effects of physical activity on executive function and motor performance in children with ADHD. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 38, 181-191. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2014.12.005