Thursday, 15 May 2014

How Does Our Memory Function… Why’s and How’s (Understanding why we have so much frustration and occasional meltdowns) by  Dyslexia Toby © 2014

 How many memory banks do we have and when do we use them?  What about the functionality of our brain and how can we retain or improve our memory?… lots to look at!

The memory and its functionality is something we should all understand.  With the need to improve comes the need to understand… not dissimilar to a business carrying out a SWAT, we can do the same to see where we can improve or strengthen our memory.

Our memory kicks in the minute we are born (Tabula Rasa)… well almost.  Instinct causes us to breath and cry… however that first touch, glance or taste are the early entries in our memory banks.  Even fear is a memory of the past that comes back and stops us in our tracks… been here before not too sure about this!

All of these are stored (history) and help us build our future.  It is almost like DNA… unique to us. People seem to feel that they know what’s in your head… sorry, only you know that!  Many of us would feel our memory falls short of what we would like it to be, when in fact it’s much better than we believe it to be.

The brain is the most complex part of our body and, without doubt, the nerve centre… without it we are nothing.  It monitors sensors from all over our body and feeds back the signals required to complete every task we do every day.

The brain also determines where the information is stored and how it’s stored… long term, short term, episodic or indeed if it’s worth storing at all.

We have nerve cells that use electrical current to carry information and converge at what’s known as the synaps (loads of neuro transmitters).  There are trillions and they can reshape and constantly evolve… this allows us to look at different ways of doing things or circumnavigating a problem.

Remembering can be from any source… touch, taste, hearing, smell, sight, feeling or indeed a combination of all those things.  It might be a place you have passed before, like a processing plant, your visual kicks in and then your smell completes the link… fear is also based on a visit to the past in our minds.

Our memory is an integral part of the brain and is strengthened very much like a muscle.  Different parts are responsible for different things and the key to development from our early years is stimulation.

We need to combine the areas of the brain to help us complete a task, we would use a different area to physically drive our car and another area for guidance purposes… to get from A to B.  You are not really aware of this and you are making no real demands on your brain… it just happens.  We still cannot say we fully understand the brain and its functions, but through research we know more than we did a few decades ago and this is ongoing research.

The process of memory begins with encoding, and then proceeds to storage and, eventually, retrieval.

We see the world in an encrypted fashion, rather like a series of codes (similar to your personal data on a credit card).  The brain uses a form of decoding known as ‘encoding’… this the very first step in memory creation.  Neurons work the busy highways of the brain carrying data back and forth.

 Most people with a learning need such as dyspraxia or dyslexia have very good long term or episodic memories but quite poor short term memories.

We only rely on our short term memory for storing up to seven things… lets look at dyscalculia for instance,we can store large numbers but we pair them together, like a phone number –‘ 0863500564’ - would be stored as ‘086 35 00 56 4’, for periods of 20 seconds.  Information is then passed onto our long term memory and this is something that all can learn!

Many now worry about dementia or altzeimers often because someone has pointed out that they are forgetting things. With the older age group there is a greater reluctance to exercise many parts of our body including our brain.
If we don't exercise how can we expect to maintain that sharpness and maintain retention. It's hard and nobody will dispute that. We take in so much that by the time we get into our fifties and sixties there is little to stimulate us.

I have taken on the learning of a language and find it difficult as most dyslexics do, to my amazement I am retaining the information, why, because I need it.

Have you ever arrived into a room and forgotten the reason for going in there?  Or maybe about to place an order for food and you can only remember some of the order?… you may have a short term memory problem.  This could be short lived (caused by being ill or stress) or more permanent due to a learning need.

We have several areas that we can move information into - short term or long term storage and this is through our sensory channels… hear/say something, see something, touch something, taste something, smell something… all but our hearing happen very much without us realising.

 Reading this article will hopefully bring clarity and reduce the frustration bought on by a poor memory and also help avoid some of the meltdowns.

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For many, poor memory when it comes to some aspects of learning or life, can be easily forgotten… these are generally areas that hold little interest and therefore become far easier to forget.  One area that never ceases to amaze me is the power of the short and long term memory to retain information through the visual channel and also via kinaesthetically learnt skills.

This is why so many struggle with maths at school, as for the most part it is numbers and not visually stimulating. Try bouncing on an exercise ball or playing maths snap and see the difference… retention is far higher; make shapes out of cereal packet’s to work out lines of symmetry and use a small mirror to reflect the shape…this will be retained for sure.

I was at a teacher training session many moons ago and can still remember some of the names!

The main reason for this lapse or poor short-term memory is often attributed not so much to the ability of the brain to retain such information, but to the ability of the person to engage in a given task.

How many of you go into a venue and are met by a friend who introduces you to a few people and seconds later you have forgotten their names?  It might not necessarily be down to a memory problem.  When you entered the room you might well have been distracted by it’s fine architecture or maybe the decor or an intriguing character in the corner.  You might be nervous and maybe anticipating awkward conversation, or maybe you weren’t listening when you were first introduced.  Try playing a game with yourself by linking each one to a theme or maybe the way they are dressed, like ‘dashing Dan’ or ‘delightful Diana’… this will help you remember names and those other niggling things that are likely to cause awkward moments.

 Train your brain everyday… it’s a large muscle and think what happens to our other muscles that get little use.  Make sure you do things you find stimulating, this will aid retention and short sharp regular bursts of games or activities will help also.

Get in the habit of recording things… I encourage my students to keep a reflective diary… that way you will refresh your mind of the day’s events and names/places, etc. and a calendar for forthcoming events.

A good memory is key to our survival and one of the things that can also affect it is confidence. If you put yourself under pressure… many melt when the word test is mentioned and that can trigger a shutdown in our memory.  This can also cause us to stutter or stammer over an important speech or reading out loud.  Take the praise of others but also praise yourself when you achieve something… this raises confidence and self-esteem, which will also sharpen your memory.

When we pop to the shops, quite often we make a list and this would be something we could introduce into many things we do… you can also try visualising a previous occasion to help you remember something you were going to do, or even help you track something you have lost or misplaced. This is also a handy technique for doing something new.  I remember taking my Motorcycle Test… I know I am dyspraxic and yes, you heard me correct, my Motorcycle Test! During the training I struggled to come up to the expectations of the instructor and was staring at a fail.  After thinking it through, that evening I decided to try a different approach. The next morning I said to the instructor that I wanted to follow him… he was shocked but agreed.  I was able to visualise all I needed to know and that afternoon much to his amazement I passed and passed well!

Episodic memory can hold you back, although it does change over time.  Take food for instance… you could be put off by strong odours like cheeses but when disguised, say in a meal, you could get used to something when buried in a recipe.  I had a dislike for stilton and only had to see it and that was enough!  However I was served it in a meal and ate it no problem and that helps to counter my episodic concerns.  This is the case with many things, like being scared of water… again as I was as a youngster, having an instructor that understands your fear and a one to one session in a quiet pool can ease this slowly or maybe interacting with others can cause flashbacks.
Visual Memory
Visual memory is not dissimilar to our short term memory and has a greater dependency on stimulation…imagine a really nice looking cake in your local bakers, when you tell others about it you re-create the picture image. This part of our memory is very important and can be used to improve other areas that are weak or struggle to retain, this is helped by students with specific learning needs that are taught through a kinaesthetic style of learning. We must always remember that words are abstract to a person with dyslexia, pictures are not.
 The visual short-term memory (VSTM) system effectively retains visual sensory information well after the sensory stimulation has ended. Short-term retention may include the consolidation of visual information into the neural system, in which the information can be manipulated and used to guide our future behavior (Jonides et al., 2008).

I am a very strong believer in short bursts of stimulation through the visual channel to help strengthen short term and long term memory and re-programme the episodic memory (remove or ease fears).

Finally, for those that are that a little bit bothered about growing old and a declining memory…  yes memory problems do tend to increase.  BUT THE GREAT THING IS WE CAN WORK TO MAINTAIN ITS STRENGTH.

The information we provide is the work of our team and also may include the research and words of others is for guidance purposes only and professional advice should always be sought. Dyslexia Toby © 2014

Resources can also play a part in stimulating and improving short term memory.  One such game we stock is the BrainBox range of Memory Training Games.  Have a look at the various titles on our Online Resource Store -

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Dyspraxia (DCD) & Adult Diagnosis  (do you think you are dyspraxic..revised) Dyslexia Toby © 2014

Diagnosis of dyspraxia in adults is far harder to detect/diagnose… why?  As we go through life we find ways to compensate in many areas that would highlight balance co-ordination and processing and we can avoid tasks that bring about problems for adults with dyspraxia.  Competition is one area… children tend to either get, or want to be included in sport within school time or with friends, adults can avoid sports if they wish and it goes almost unnoticed, as is so often not the case as a child.
Dyspraxia symptoms have been around for a very long time, however diagnosis is relatively new… in the last 15-20 years.  So many born before this time have not had the benefit of a diagnosis and may have been labelled clumsy.
Having an understanding of why we are different is a great help and a huge weight off our shoulders, as we often blame ourselves.
Around 5-6% of the population have some form of dyspraxia, so we are far from alone.
We tend to have greater levels of concentration and are more aware when carrying out tasks that require a greater focus.  We also develop our short term memory over time and this helps improve our processing speed and reaction time.
It’s also important to understand that dyspraxia has a wide spectrum and affects many in a variety of ways, this can also vary from mild to severe.
There are online tests you can takewhich I must add are only a first pointer before seeking a professional diagnosis.  Also, you may have had a child, niece or nephew recently diagnosed and noticed similarities with yourself.
There are professionals/psychologists in the UK that can diagnose adults, although I believe this not to be the case in Ireland, as is the same with qualifications. There are many that work in this field, in particular those that are qualified Fitness Trainers (gross motor), OT and SPLT and there are many that support academic areas such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. You can contact us for advice and names of professionals who work in these areas; we have contacts across several countries.
Dyspraxia affects basic motor skills… gross (such as walking or sitting upright) and fine motor skills which include many things (such as writing or picking up small objects) in children as well as adults. Balance is a major factor and this can cause problems trying to put socks on unless we are seated, Doing up shirt buttons (start from one end, never in the middle), lifting a leg to wash our feet in the  shower. This is something that will last for life and it is recognised by many international organisations, including the WHO.
As an adult we find that DCD can affect so many things… learning to drive, dancing, playing sport, further education, employment and even relationships.
This can be as a result of being over anxious, frightened of failure and through a general lack of self-belief/confidence and also through poor organisation skills.
It can also bring about language problems and this can be exacerbated through increased anxiety or pressure.  We can often throw out random words or indeed full sentences and can also have problems with voice control including volume, speed and pitch.  We also have a tendency to interrupt others and often have to apologise for cutting in on conversations (due to slow processing speed).
Those who have, or think they have, dyspraxia, may also have other conditions.  You may have heard of co-morbidity… this means one thing existing alongside another… such as ASD, speech (verbal dyspraxia - dragging, stuttering or slurring), maths (dyscalculia) dyslexia and dysgraphia, sensory processing disorder, ADD or ADHD.
Having dyspraxia as an adult can cause depression and anxiety as we tend to get frustrated over things you feel should be easily achieved.  There are very good occupational therapists that can help you get around something, including most life skills… Yoga is also great for reducing stress and at the same time improving your balance and co-ordination. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also be of benefit.
Dyspraxia does not affect intelligence levels and I am afraid to say it never goes away, but we can learn how to cope with it.  If you think you may have dyspraxia or you might be following this up through your family line as it is often present or can run in families, first check with your GP and you can also contact an educational Psychologist or OT that specialises in dyspraxia.  In Ireland you can check with the Psychological Society of Ireland. If you are in the United States we have contacts over there that can provide further details.
Dyspraxia is relatively new when compared to dyslexia, however new research is coming to the fore, which is leading to improved diagnosis and the availability of resources.  It’s an area well worth keeping an eye on so you are up to date with the disorder.
Please note all our articles are for guidance only and we always recommend that you seek professional advice.
This work may contain some of the research of others and our opinions based on personal experience.
Dyslexia Toby © 2014