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Understanding Will – Part 1. What is he talking about? #learning strategies #ADHD #thinkdifferently

Somewhere during the process of discovering that Will has a poor working memory and ADHD, we actually sat down and asked Will what he thought that he struggled with, both in and out of school. His responses were eye-opening, and to be honest a real shock, how on earth had we managed to be parents who had totally failed to understand our own child? Still, that was not the time for recriminations, we all had to understand how Will worked so that we could help him achieve his dreams and potential.

Through this series of blog posts, Understanding Will, we will share what we have learnt about Will and how in understanding him better we have helped him to use different learning strategies.

And the moral… really talk to but more importantly listen to your child.

Will said:

“I start to say something, maybe in answer to a question, to put forward an idea, but then I forget the rest of what I want to say. My mind suddenly goes blank so I repeat what I’ve already said or say something completely irrelevant.”

What is going on in Will’s brain?

  • First Will has to encode and manipulate task relevant information, holding on to it whilst he processes it and transforms it into spoken words. This is a complex, cognitive activity and places high demands on his working memory.
  • Will finds it difficult to switch attentional focus whilst simultaneously and actively maintaining relevant information in his long-term memory. As he struggles to switch attention some information may become inaccessible and he “forgets” what he wants to say.
  • Will develops the automatic strategy of immediately voicing both his relevant and irrelevant thoughts to prevent “forgetting”.

The impact:

  • Will remains in the lower stages of attentional maturity and is unable to manipulate relevant information whilst keeping all the information in mind.
  • He is forced to guess or to simply abandon tasks and struggles to demonstrate his knowledge and understanding orally.

Strategies that help Will learn:

(some are more suited to some curriculum areas than others)

  • Give Will opportunities to familiarize himself with content prior to lessons. Ex. read texts.
  • Provide Will with a printed copy of key questions to be asked prior to the session, indicating their order by a number or symbol.
  • Provide Will with time to prepare and rehearse responses, create visual prompts. Ex. cue cards.
  • Allow Will time to respond to a question, repeating the question or simplifying it to support him.
  • Provide Will with opportunities to record his responses, e.g. on a Dictaphone, or to give his response to a partner to say.
  • Allow Will to convey his ideas and understanding in other ways, e.g. through musical notation, drawings or diagrams, movement or gesture
  • Introduce processes and facts in a structured, cumulative and multi-sensory way, discussing/demonstrating their relevance to prior learning

Will has been lucky, most of his teachers and lecturers have been more than willing to use these strategies, many of which involve more lesson preparation on their part.

But we have had to be advocates for Will, ensuring that his educators know what help he needs to achieve his potential. And now Will is older, he has had to develop self-esteem and be open about his learning challenges and needs with both lecturers and peers to ensure that they understand and respect him as an individual.

At home, well we have all worked hard to give Will processing time, time to understand the question we are asking or to process an instruction. And the understanding that processing time is essential for Will, that he is not simply being purposefully defiant or awkward, has made the world of difference to our family life but more importantly, Will’s.

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