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Poor working memory: what help should 8yo DD be getting in school?

(18 Posts)
telekon Tue 31-Oct-17 13:37:05

Just posted this in Education/SEN but maybe will be better here. My DD has been diagnosed with poor working memory. She is in year 4 but working more than 2 years behind according to her teacher and the gap is widening. She possibly has dyscalculia but this has not been diagnosed. She gets a lot of help from LSA in classroom, 1-2-1 maths lessons a couple of times a week, and differentiated work in the classroom but it doesn't seem to be helping her keep up.

I've got a meeting with SENCO and her teachers tomorrow and I'm not sure what I should be asking for. Has anyone succeeded in getting an EHCP/statement for poor working memory? I've been told my chances of getting this are pretty much non-existent.

So what kind of help could I realistically ask for for my daughter in the classroom? Nobody at the school seems to have much experience of dealing with poor working memory and what techniques might help my daughter to work more independently. Any thoughts or advice gratefully received!

Sirzy Tue 31-Oct-17 17:08:30

Would visual aids help her? So she can work through things at her pace?

sentenceinterrupted Mon 15-Jan-18 19:07:15

@telekon , how have things gone? My y4 ds also has poor working memory. No specific help at this point; I'm just now trying to figure out what to do. He's falling further behind each year, even when he was homeschooled by an experienced teacher. We've rejoined normal school now, but I need to figure out how best to help

telekon Mon 15-Jan-18 20:09:20

DD was assessed by an Educational Psychologist earlier this term and we're just waiting now to hear back on her findings. Hopefully within a couple of weeks.

I did ask whether it was possible to get an EHCP/ statement for poor working memory and she said if the problem was deemed severe enough she might...but I'm not holding out much hope for that as I know how difficult they are to get these days.

Apparently the EP will come back with some practical suggestions to help DD in the classroom - if anything useful comes up I'm happy to share here. Also, the school SENCO is going on a training day which is specifically about working memory so I'll be interested to hear what she comes back with.

Has your DS not been given any extra help at school at all? DD does quite a few early morning interventions - not that any of them seem to have much effect as she's still dreadfully behind.

sentenceinterrupted Tue 16-Jan-18 07:31:44

We moved country just after the first stage of diagnosis. It's not severe, but it's part of several issues that are inter-related and no one here can cover all the areas so it's just slipping, and I suspect it's only the upcoming exams (his first!), that are going to really reflect the gaps to this teacher (who is inexperienced and has several sen kids in class who have permanent TAs. He is well above target in other areas, but he also has some other needs so it gets hard to know if he just doesn't want to try, or if he's refusing to try because he can't do it, or if he's trying but getting the answers wrong.

Where are you having the most 'problems'? I can 'see' the problems in maths but not sure how things are going in other subjects

telekon Tue 16-Jan-18 08:49:40

My DD sounds a bit different to your DS as her problems are really across the board in all subjects - apart from reading which is ok - , but maths is the most apparent.

She finds it difficult to grasp simple mathematical concepts - or any abstract concepts really. Memorising or understanding times tables is just a complete non-starter. She can only get the answers by counting through on her fingers.

In addition, she finds it very hard to remember or stick to a task. Will often start writing a sentence and then forget what she wanted to write or what the purpose of an exercise was.

She finds it hard to relate a narrative e.g. when telling me about something that happened at school will often get confused about the order of events and then say she can't remember. I suspect her case is pretty severe though. Even the teachers seem baffled by it which doesn't inspire much confidence!

BoogleMcGroogle Tue 16-Jan-18 15:38:08

I can't link to it from my phone but Cambridge university MRC cognition and brain sciences unit publishes an excellent guide to working memory in the classroom. It will give you a good idea of the sort of support the school should offer. Share it with the school too.

EeAicheCeePee Tue 16-Jan-18 21:52:45

Gathercole and Alloway wrote the 'go to' text on working memory for all teachers and professionals, titled 'Working Memory and Learning'. Very practical and very well written.

Checklist Wed 17-Jan-18 10:08:20

Epilepsy Action has produced an excellent booklet "Memory and epilepsy", written by a Professor at the University of Liverpool, because people with epilepsy may well have poor memory too. While the epilepsy part is irrelevant to you and DD, most of the booklet is about memory - explaining the different parts of it, and strategies to deal with it.

Hopefully, the ed psy assessment did assessments on the different parts of DD's memory? There is episodic memory, such as relating what happened during the day; semantic memory is for knowledge and facts; and procedural memory for activities like riding a bike, which we carry out almost without thinking. Memory can also be divided into verbal (what we hear) and visual memory (what we see). It could be that DD's difficulties with relating events could just arise from poor working memory, but she could also have poor episodic memory; or poor verbal and/or visual memory too?

Then there are three stages to memory:

1. encoding - recording the memory
2. storage
3. retrieval - bringing information from long term memory to short term or working memory for use here and now.

The process can break down at any of those three stages.

As for maths, having to retrieve mathematical techniques from long term memory may be difficult for her. DD1 has profound memory problems, and the ed psy recommended that tasks for her rely on recognition, not retrieval from memory. For example, she should have had a filofax where the mathematical techniques such as addition and subtraction were laid out for her in examples; she only had to look at them and try to do the same with the task in front of her in that lesson, rather than being expected to try to remember how to addition or subtraction first each time. Same goes for times tables, expecting her to learn them is going to be a waste of time - just give her them in writing to refer to and apply in class. They could also write new words in a filofax, like scientific jargon, which she is likely to struggle to remember at first.

Attention is closely related to working memory, iirc from psychology lectures, so it could be that if DD has poor working memory, she has poor attention too - hence the difficulty in sticking to a task. Did the ed psy observe DD in class?

DD1 had other problems and a statement/EHC plan anyway, but she got 1:1 support in class (on top of a high staff to pupil ratio in small classes in a specialist school), because of her memory problems.

Checklist Wed 17-Jan-18 10:14:22

If the ed psy did not do detailed assessment of the different parts of DD's memory, you could ask for a neuro-psychological assessment. Jane Hood, who used to be the principal neuro-educational psychologist at the Newcomen Centre used to do this - because a parent showed me the report on their DD, detailing the assessments on all the different parts of memory. I took DD2 to see her for an assessment privately, although not for memory problems - but that was years ago. I don't know if she is still working in the field.

sentenceinterrupted Wed 17-Jan-18 13:40:26

I know you're all really talking to @telekon, but thank you for all the info - it looks really good for us personally.

Telekon, i think we are less severe than you. Times tables and finger counting are exactly the same. He can do maths etc while i am there but if i go back the very next day he has no idea to do long division above the line instead of just trying to work it out below like a sum. Ditto staying on task etc. the Ed Psych specifically said that if there is something he has to do, break it down into no more than two things at once; eg tie your shoelaces and get your water bottle. I usually have to say it 4 or 5 times to get him to do the first task and then the second usually needs specific requirements too. We have a picture list on the fridge for the mornings, that he can tick off. i don't see any other homework so it's hard to know. He's quite an advanced reader, plus this country is one year behind in 'english' as it's multilingual, so i don't think there will be problems there. We do have epilepsy. Other diagnoses have included aspergers, sensory processing disorder, hypermobility, and dyspraxia, so it gets a bit foggy sometimes as to where the memory problems are and where the 'refuse to do anything i don't want to do' problems are.

he definitely completely forgets stuff at times, though - like things we have done before...

BashStreetKid Wed 17-Jan-18 15:18:47

Don't be put off applying for an EHCP. The criteria for assessment - the first part of the process - are simply whether your child may have SEN and may need special educational provision through an EHCP. Clearly, if she's two years behind and has a diagnosed difficulty, she has SEN. If she is not making progress and/or her needs can't be met fully within the resources normally available in a mainstream school, she meets the second criterion. If the local authority refuses assessment, you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal - over 90% of refusal to assess appeals either get conceded or lost by local authorities.

Even if it gets no further, full assessment is likely to be useful as it's relatively rare for a child to have working memory difficulties in isolation. She probably needs a speech and language assessment.

telekon Wed 17-Jan-18 20:10:24

Thank you so much for all of these incredibly helpful and thoughtful answers. I really do appreciate it.I will definitely check out all of the recommendations above.

I'm desperate to understand better how memory works because at the moment I feel as though I am failing DD by not really having a grasp on what the problem is. Memory is just one of those things you take for granted, like having a sense of smell or taste, and I find it so hard to put myself in her shoes and imagine what it must be like to not be able to rely on it. Horrible I imagine.

Checklist I kind of wish I'd had your reply before she saw the EP as I might have asked them to be a bit more specific about which memory tests they were doing. As far as I know they were testing for "working memory" and dyscalculia..I suspect it was maybe not as in depth as the tests you mention. When I asked DD she said she just did some "quizzes and puzzles" with the EP.

BashstreetKid that's very interesting about the EHCP. The SENCO at the school has been quite adamant that we won't get one for DD but I'm prepared to give it my best shot. The irony is that DD's class teacher told me that there are a couple of children in DD's year who are nowhere near as far behind or as "needy" in the classroom (not the right word but you know what I mean) who do have EHCPs because I guess they had issues that were easier to diagnose or label.

telekon Wed 17-Jan-18 20:17:20

"Sentence" it's very difficult isn't it when you spend a lot of time working through something with them and feel you've made a breakthrough and then the next time you do it, it's like they're doing it for the first time. The funny thing is that once DD has grasped the technique of doing a sum e.g. addition or subtraction, she loves working her way through a page of sums and will usually get most of them right. But the next time you ask her to do addition it's like she has no idea what you are talking about, or how to set the sum out...

telekon Wed 17-Jan-18 20:21:23

Checklist I just re-read your post and it's very interesting what you said about the different kinds of memory. DD has no problem recalling the names of children she met on holiday three or four years ago, or events that happened a while ago so I don't think there's an issue with long-term memory. However, she has really struggled with stuff like learning to ride a bike, (we had to pay for a course in the end and she's only just cracked it aged 8) and it never occurred to me before that that might be memory related.

Checklist Wed 17-Jan-18 20:43:08

Names of children like other facts are semantic memory, and iirc, it's encoded in words. As I said, events are episodic memory - they use visual and verbal memory.

It takes time for memories to be consolidated, and sleep is vital to the process.

If you have difficulty remembering people's names, it's because in evolutionary terms, we are still Stone Age tribesmen. When we meet someone, it's vital to look at the expressions on their face - is it time for the fight or flight response, if they are looking aggressive? Do we recognise them, despite different emotions on their face, change of hair, etc? Time to recall what facts we know about them? Their name is the last information we retrieve, because in survival terms, it's not of paramount importance. Obviously, the last link in a chain of processes is the one most likely to fail.

sentenceinterrupted Thu 18-Jan-18 07:59:01

Telekon, I'm watching with real interest here... our kids sound so similar, bike riding for example (though we are obviously not so extreme). DS has had problems with names, though, since we moved here ... but he used to be fine with them...

sentenceinterrupted Thu 18-Jan-18 08:02:09

Checklist, thank you so much for your responses, they're really helpful for us too - I'm going to get in touch with our ed psych and see if I can get some clarity too.

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