My son’s teacher doesn’t believe he is dyslexic. She thinks he has problems with his “working memory.” What does that mean?

Working memory is usually measured by holding a limited amount of words/information in mind for a short period of time. As these tests commonly use letters or numbers, which is confusing and rather meaningless for picture-thinkers, dyslexics often rate very poorly in such tests. Sequence is another area of difficulty for them, so it is not really the working memory that is a problem, but the means of testing. If however the letters or numbers were replaced with real-life objects and if your son is dyslexic (or a picture thinker), then he’d rate very strongly in the area of working memory.

If your son is old enough, approximately eight years or over, there is a simple test to give you a rough idea. If your son is dyslexic, he will most likely think in images. Ask him to create a movie in his head, the complexity of which depends on the age of your son. I usually tell them a story, on how I get to work, asking them to follow my story in their mind.

E.g., I am driving my car into the parking station, where I leave my car, while I am working (make the first picture of the parking lot, what I’d see when I step out of my car), I then have to walk across a lovely green park, where I cross a Japanese-type bridge (make a second picture from the top of the bridge). After that I enter the tall building, where my office is. I press the button to the lift, when the lift door opens, take the third picture. I ride up to the first floor, get out of the lift and see a big square hallway with a peaceful looking Buddha statue (make that the fourth picture). I open the door and hang up my coat in a wardrobe (make the inside of the wardrobe your fifth image). I go up to the reception and greet the secretary (make the reception the sixth picture). The view behind her desk is stunning. Through the window I see the ocean, with big waves (seventh picture). I walk upstairs to my studio (the eight stairs are the eighth picture). I have a big whiteboard in my studio and write something on it (whiteboard is ninth picture). Then I tell them where they sit down on the big wooden desk, there is a lovely big pot-plant next to it. The tenth and last picture is of the pot-plant. Of course pause between the pictures as this takes time to process.

These very complex instructions are usually quite easy for a dyslexic mindset to follow and repeat afterwards. They are great visual aids to pin memories to. If, for example, they had to remember a list of things in the right sequence, this will help greatly.
It could be as simple as remembering mum’s shopping list: 1. milk (see milk spilled on the floor of the parking lot/pic 1); 2. Toast (throw crumbs of bread to the fish over the bridge in the park, pic 2); 3. Sausages (see sausages hanging from the ceiling of the lift, pic 3); 4. Cheese (see the Buddha in the hallway holding a big round cheese); 5. Salad (see big salad heads tumbling out of the wardrobe, pic 5); 6. Carrots (see your secretary eating a carrot, pic 6); 7. Oranges (see oranges floating on the waves in the ocean, pic 7); 8. Apples (see an apple on each of the 8 steps, pic 8); 9. Fish (see me draw a fish on the whiteboard, pic 9); 10: tea (see tea bags hanging off the pot-plant, pic 10).

The funnier the images, the better the memory. There are no wrong ways and the original story can be anything the child can relate to, including their morning routine on the way to school etc.

Even if they only remember six or seven of the ten, it’s a good working memory, believe me! I worked with a lovely nine-year-old girl last week, who was apparently struggling with working memory. I asked her to describe her way to school and pause, whenever I asked her to take a picture of the “freeze frame.” She ended up with ten gorgeous images (garage at home, church across the schoolyard, steps, locker, door, whiteboard, desk, lunchbox, lunch shelter and handball).

She not only recalled all ten “stations” without a problem, but could name the entire shopping list, that I had asked her to integrate into the images, three hours later, when mum picked her up. Mum and I were amazed. So much for a poor working memory!

I have learnt a lot from a guy called Jim Kwik. He stated that there is no such thing as a good or a bad memory, just a trained or untrained one. Unfortunately our schools are only telling us what to learn and not how to.

It is therefore up to us to teach our children how to improve their focus and how to use their minds and bring them into the new age of learning – where they know how to apply their unique talents to remember and recall all the information they need.