Poor Working Memory & ADHD

When many people hear that someone has ADHD (ADD) they immediately think of physical hyperactivity. I must admit, until I was diagnosed and began educating myself on the subject, I also thought that’s all that it was and that it was “outgrown”. Boy was I wrong!

I was doing some reading today, and ran across this list of abilities that are affected by the working memory difficulties experienced by people affected by ADHD.

  • Remembering and following instructions (especially verbal instructions) (I’m sorry, I don’t remember you saying anything about needing to do that part!)

  • Memorizing information (math facts, spelling words, dates, etc.) (Probably why although I enjoyed “learning” about history I couldn’t “memorize” the dates to save my life, which, of course, resulted in lower than usual grades on “memorization related” tests! Countries & Capitals, States & Capitals, what year did So-And-So discover Such-And-Such?)

  • Performing mental computation (doing math “in your head”) (Someone please give me some scrap paper!)

  • Completing complex math problems (algebra) (No wonder I DESPISED algebra & math!)

  • Remembering one part of an assignment or project while working on another segment

  • Paraphrasing or summarizing (Um, yeah, I’m not exactly known for being brief.)

  • Organizing and writing essays (Don’t get me started on my hatred of organized reports & essays…Can’t I just let it flow as it comes out of my brain?)

  • Learning from past behavior (No comment…)

  • Judging the passage of time accurately (and therefore not allowing enough time to complete tasks such as homework, projects, etc.) (I swear it only takes me 30 minutes to get ready to walk out the door, but if you ask my husband, it takes me about 2 hours.)

  • Examining or changing your own behavior (possibly leading to behaviors that may alienate friends, co-workers, etc. “Self awareness”) (I shudder to think what people “really” think about me. I know “tactful” probably won’t be found on any lists most people would make of descriptive words for me. BUT, I believe I’ve gotten better at keeping my big mouth shut compared to how I was up until a couple of years ago. Not perfect, but better.)

  • Planning ahead (Weekly dinner menu? HA HA HA HA!!! I’m doing great if I can decided at lunchtime what I’m going to make for dinner…which reminds me…it’s almost lunch time.)

  • No matter how high a person’s IQ is, if they are affected by ADHD, they WILL have more difficulty with their “working memory” (if not then they don’t have ADHD) than a person without ADHD. Fortunately, there have been great strides in ADHD research & treatment/management in the past decade. As I find resources on the ‘net I try to bookmark them in my Delicious bookmarks. Please feel free to check out (or subscribe to) my ADHD related bookmarks.

    I’d love to hear about your ADHD experiences! Feel free to comment below.


    1. My daughter, Bethany, was diagnosed at age 10 with ADHD. Everything you have described above fits her to a T. The hyper-active part has pretty much disappeared unless she feeds herself sugar or red dye foods. She will be 21 next week. You can imagine since I am organized, think ahead and logical that I have to stiffle myself more often than not because it frustrates me often that she still hasn’t researched and learned a way of coping with her disability. And learning from past experiences and learning to do things differently – ahhhhh no comment here either. At what point did you accept the diagnosis and make a conscious decision to educate yourself and learn coping skills to find work-arounds? I am hoping “sometime soon” mu daughter will learn that having this “invisible” disability is not the end of the world – there are ways to excel despite her difficulties and actually recognize some of the benefits like a much sharper attention span in specific situations where others could not. Did you know that ADHD sufferers excel as police, Emergency workers, television producers, etc where they would flounder in an office job or in a factory job on a line…

      • Diane, I accepted the diagnosis before it was officially given! (I was diagnosed a year ago this past November. I was 36.) When my therapist asked if I had ever been tested for or diagnosed with ADHD I told him I had not and I said “What could you do if I had it anyway? You can’t give ADHD meds to adults.” When he gave me an odd look and said, “Yes you can,” my head immediately began spinning! As soon as I got home I researched for hours. The next week when I was officially tested & diagnosed I cried when I got home. I went through a whole range of emotions all at once. Relief to finally know WHY I did all the things I thought were so weird & why I struggled with (or couldn’t do at all) the tasks “everyone else” seemed to do so effortlessly. I was angry that no one had figured this out before. I was excited at the possibility I might not have to struggle as much with certain aspects of my life. I was sad at the thought of how my life COULD have turned out if I’d “known then what I know now.” (I have a high IQ & excelled at many things academically, but, had been told over and over again “You could do so much better if you just applied yourself/tried harder/weren’t so lazy.”)

        As for your daughter not having the hyper-active part much anymore, I’d bet she may struggle with it more than you realize. Her “body” may not be as active, but is she a pen clicker, doodler, foot tapper, hair fidgeter? That’s how most “hyper-active” ADHD kids end up as adults. I do all of the above when I don’t take my meds. I even did things I didn’t REALIZE I did until I found myself NOT doing them after I started taking my Adderall. When I would go out to eat I would ALWAYS play with my straw wrapper…folding it up really tiny then eventually tearing it into dozens of tiny little pieces before the food got there. I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time until I’d look down and there would be all these little pieces of paper in front of me! I haven’t destroyed a single innocent straw wrapper since November 2009 when I began taking Adderall.

        Yes, I know certain jobs are much more suited to ADHD adults. I had very few “symptoms” when I was a corrections officer, partly because I was on such a set schedule with just about everything. And, when I was an “office worker” I got bored easily & looked for “challenging” tasks as often as possible. If the filing was “a mess” when I started working somewhere, I’d dive in and tackle “making it right” but then quickly get bored after the challenging part was over and the day-to-day upkeep of the filing started. “That form is so old and horrible looking from being repeatedly photocopied. Would you like me to create a new, fresh one?” There is NO WAY I’d be happy at all in a factory job.

        Too many people, even those who are “close” to someone with ADHD, don’t realize how much of an impact ADHD has on basically EVERY aspect of the ADHD person’s life (and therefore the family of that person). If the ADHD person was belittled (“you’re just lazy”, “you need to try harder”, “why can’t you just “) and punished for the things they truly did not even realize they were doing at the time or have much control over if they did realize it, let alone know HOW to “fix it”, then often that person grows up with serious “baggage” like low self-esteem and depression. (Why do you think I was in therapy in the first place?)

        LOL…look at me being “brief” again…not! 😉

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