February 2013 Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter
Working memory has been described as the brain’s note pad. It is where information is made available for a short period time, while a person is performing a specific task. Working memory is needed to organize written information, take good notes, and respond to what someone says or asks.
Recalling a telephone number long enough to actually make a call is an example of using working memory. So is remembering a sequence of three or four instructions: “Look up the account number, check to see when payment was made, let the customer know if their account is active, and close the file when done.”
The amount of information that can be stored in the working memory is limited. For most people, the capacity is about seven pieces of data.
It is not uncommon for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) to have impaired working memory function. This can make multitasking – the rapid shifting of attention from one task to another – quite difficult. Many of my clients report that when they are interrupted during a task, they lose their place, and have to start again from the beginning. The difficulty is not performing multiple job tasks, but having to switch quickly back and forth between them.
Here are some suggestions for lessening the impact of poor working memory. Experiment and see what works for you.
▪ Work in a quiet space and limit the number of interruptions. Close your door, or post a “do not disturb” sign outside of your cubicle, when you are working on important tasks.
▪ If you are interrupted, ask politely whether you can discuss the matter at a later time: “I’m working on deadline right now; can we talk at 3:00?”
▪ Schedule two or three specific times per day to check voice- and e-mail. Turn off the email notification system on your computer. If you are easily distracted by sounds, wear noise-cancelling headphones or use a white-noise machine.
▪ Practice information “chunking.” When information is categorized into chunks, less memory capacity is used. A classic example of chunking is the telephone number. The sequence 9782985186 is difficult to remember. But when the digits are categorized (chunked) into area code, prefix, and line number, recall is much easier: (978) 298-5186.
▪ Create routines instead of relying on your short-term memory. For example, place your car keys in the same spot every day; visit the bank on the same day and time each week to get cash for incidental expenses.
▪ Write things down, or utilize some of the technologies available for scheduling, organizing and reminding.
Finally be aware that stress, anxiety and fatigue make it hard to concentrate and remember information. Adding periods for exercise and relaxation to your day will increase productivity.
Late, Lost, and Unprepared, by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie DietzelPromoting Executive Function in the Classroom, by Lynn MeltzerWorking Memory & Learning, by Susan E. Gathercole and Tracy Packiam Alloway
© 2013, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching.