Make Memories with ADHD

 ADHD Weekly 2016-04-28

Memory and ADHD

Research shows that individuals with ADHD are four times more likely to have working memory problems compared to peers without attention problems. The term working memory describes the ability to hold in mind and use information over short periods of time. Working memory is also thought of as the mental workspace that we use to store information while performing tasks. This skill is important when trying to add numbers together, such as 23 + 16 + 12; when following multi-step instructions, “Go upstairs, brush your teeth, comb your hair, bring your homework downstairs;” or when grocery shopping, “I need eggs, milk, potatoes, bread, and toilet paper.”

Although all individuals with ADHD do not have poor working memory, those that do can have greater challenges learning, following instructions, and grasping key concepts. In a longitudinal study, Tracy and Ross Alloway measured the IQs and working memory skills of 5 year olds and then retested the kids six years later. They also looked at each child’s academic achievement in reading, spelling, and math. They found, “Working memory at the start of formal education is a more powerful predictor of subsequent academic success than IQ.”

Several computer-based working memory training programs are currently on the market. Unfortunately, researchers have found no evidence that these programs can improve working memory, so you’re better off not investing in these programs.

So what can you do? Although there are no current tools to increase your actual working memory, here are some strategies to help you work with memory issues.


During the ADHD evaluation, it’s important to find out if your child or you may have difficulties with working memory. Knowing that these difficulties exist can help the child or adult understand their limitations and also help identify the best way to provide information. For example, when giving multi-step instructions to children with working-memory issues, reinforce each step by asking the child to repeat it.


Mnemonics is a strategy that involves teaching students to link new information that they are learning to information that they already know by using aids such as rhymes, images, phrases or songs to help remember things. One of the most common mnemonic strategies is to use the first letter of words to remember lists, such as ROY G. BIV to remember the colors of the rainbow in order (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).

Putting hard-to-remember information to music can also be a good mnemonic device. The popular Schoolhouse Rock programs used this method to help generations of children learn the Preamble to the Constitution and the conjunctions, “And, but, and or will get you very far.”


Although brain-training programs may not improve your child’s or your working memory, playing memory games can help hone the skills you have. Games can be fun, especially when done as a family, and can improve how children feel about memorizing things. Games such as Concentration, matching games, and Simon (the electronic memory game with colors and lights) can help kids practice remembering sequences and things.

Lists and Calendars

Instead of having to remember things, take the memorization out of the equation. Writing things down, such as assignments or groceries, can help you not forget important things. Calendars, both electronic and paper, can help you keep track of appointments and assignments.


Rather than trying to remember individual steps for a task, you can focus on what the end product looks like. Speech pathologists, Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen, discussed this technique at CHADD’s 2015 Conference. In their practice, they have parents take a picture of their children ready for school, so that the kids have an image of what being ready looks like, including being dressed, having their backpack and lunch with them.