Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Memory and Learning, Understanding How She Ticks


I was going to do a post on memory in individuals with Down syndrome, a bit of a musing, playing out my thoughts, trying to answer my own questions, soliciting answers from all of you, but upon conducting a quick Google search, I have discovered that I have a lot more research to do.  I had been wondering about the differences between short-term and long-term memory, wondering if short-term memory, something that's generally known to be a deficiency for our chromosomally-enhanced friends and family members, isn't, in fact, necessary to achieve before it can become long-term memory.  I mean, wouldn't it make sense that you'd have to learn something in the short-term to be able to store it for long-term?  And with the visual strengths these individuals have, as evidenced by ability to learn sight-words over phonics, manipulatives over verbal concepts, etc., how does that come into play here?  Does visual strength equal something akin to eidetic (photographic) memory?  Can Samantha's uncanny ability to remember where something was put/left/forgotten-by-me mean something that sounds considerably more attractive than the "poor short-term memory" that we see bandied about so frequently? 

And, again, my research needs to be done first.  In the 60 seconds before I began this post (in this excellent article), I learned that in people with Down syndrome, it's more a deficiency in verbal short-term memory that they posess, thus the visual strengths.  And for long-term memory, there are deficiencies as well, which makes sense.  There's something called explicit memory, which involves things like facts and concepts that take a conscious effort to recollect, and something called implicit memory, which, according to Wikipedia, is "a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences."  We rely on this type of memory for everyday life as a sort of "procedural memory."  We have routines.  We do things because we've done them before.  We know how things work because we've seen them work before.  We know which piece of a puzzle is missing because we know what the picture is.  I read that people with organic amnesia also are impaired when it comes to explicit memory, whereas their implicit memory is relatively intact.

Fascinating stuff.  I know that there is research being conducted to improve memory and cognition in people with Down syndrome, and reading about memory has really opened my eyes to things I subconsciously already knew - I mean, it makes sense, but now I have the words and the descriptions to understand a little bit more. 

I'm always blown away by the kinds of things Samantha remembers, so I've always wondered how there could be such widely-acknowledged impairment.  However, now I understand that her excellent memory is certainly procedural, visually-instigated, implicit.  Concepts are difficult for Samantha to understand.  This is why Math and Science and History can be challenging for her, unless they're taught using manipulatives, or hands-on experimentation.  With this knowledge, we will be requesting pull-outs for Math at her next IEP meeting.  I know that we need to play to her strengths, rather than push for equal learning with the rest of her peers just to prove a point.  It just won't work.  I'm not going to cut my nose off to spite my face, at her expense.  If we want her to be successful, want her to feel good about what she's doing, want her to learn instead of feeling frustrated and giving up, this is most definitely what we want to do. 

I'm excited.

Knowledge is power.

17 comments:

Lisa said...

I was at a conference for reading strategies for kids with DS and the lecturer gave the best explaination of memory for me. She said she relates memory to a kitchen utensil drawer. Everything is in there it is just a matter of finding it in the time you need it. So the can opener and your favorite mixing spoon are always in front because you use them and put them away daily - it take only a second to pull them out. If you only bake once a month your measuring spoons might be a little ways back but still most likely in the same place so they might take you 15 seconds to find depending on how much activity has been going on since. If you made a fancy melon dish last year, you might be sure that melon baller is in there but it could take you a long time to find it since it is buried deeper. But once you use it you'll know exactly where it is for a few days until it gets buried again. That is how things work with Cate. She knows her spelling words down pat in a week to read and write. Next week she'll still be able to read them out of context. If she doesn't see one again for a month and you give her time she'll probably come up with it. But if she is hurried or under pressure you'd think she didn't know it at all because she can't find it under all the newer words.

Carol N. said...

I agree with you, Becca! That's what I hope for with Aidan, too. Also what I hope I can do too - ie. have the wisdom to know what's best for Aidan despite the politically correct swing of the pendulum for full inclusion. Why can't we have both/and rather than either/or?

Stephanie said...

The study of memory is so interesting, isn't it? I was a psychology minor in college and I had one class that dealt with learning, memory, and children. I find myself thinking about this topic a lot since I see Owen remembering certain things we do or things he's seen after a few times. I realize how important it is to expose him to more abstract concepts many times before expecting him to remember or to do it. You are right on about the math/science/social studies aspect too. I am so worried that people in the Ds community will think less of me if Owen isn't fully included all the time. But it really is about the kid and what the kid needs rather than anyone else's opinion of me or another parent.

Alicia Llanas said...

we began a new program past august with a down syndrome center, they evaluate my kids every two months, they give us a "program" to work with and so on

since the first meeting they told us that memory was a subject that we would be working permanently, so we have been doing some excercises they have given us

- tell two numbers, and then they must repeat it, if they can with two numbers, then tell them 3, and so on
- the same exercise but with 2 words of 2 syllables
- show them a sheet with 5 objects and/or animals for 3 seconds, then hide it and then they have to tell what they remember they saw
- put 3 objects, let them 3 seconds to see it, and then toss them and they should be able to put it in the same order again

we downloaded an ipad app of memory that we have been using, and i found out i dont have such a good short-term memory


Becca said...

Something I *meant* to mention above... I find it odd, however, that Samantha learns her spelling words better by *hearing* them, rather than looking at them. I will say the word, have her repeat the spelling after me, then have her do it herself. And it usually sticks after 2 or 3 tries. Not sure how that plays into this post, but curious nonetheless.

Nan said...

Our daughter Jessie is a better aural/oral learner, in spite of many with Down syndrome being better visual learners. Again ... don't just assume! That one threw us for a loop and explained much, so we went back and retooled our learning kit. Also remember that these other ways of learning/strengths are not just unique to kids with Down syndrome.... making sure classrooms, especially elementary classrooms, teach using all modalities helps other students too! I could give you lots more on memory (for Jess max to start = 3 units of info plus) and the best way for her to learn lines (one at a time, then add on) and other tips ... like seeing memory and learning as setting down a neural pathways... which explains why she learns best through success (starting with tons of support) to lay down the "correct" pathway and ... blah blah blah. Best info on memory and down syndrome for us came from the DSTrust in the UK. Also, individual testing where we requested info on memory and retrieval ... we quickly learned that Jessie's filing system is often rather unique! The info is there, accessing it or cuing for access requires some little tricks ...

Nan said...

Oh man, I am SO sorry for going on and on!

CJ said...

You learn, then teach us! Ready? Go!

Kerri said...

Wow that is awesome that you found what clicks in how Samantha learns! Good luck with the IEP

miradoro1 said...

Wow - very interesting, Bec.
Remember, Samantha is good at the memory/match game, too.

Anna Theurer said...

Interesting stuff, Becca! Bear is definitely a visual and hands-on learner. I recorded most of her ABA sessions. When I play them back for her, she gets it. It clicks! Of course, I am the same way. In one ear and out the other. I must write everything down--texting, typing, talking to Siri do not count--the physical act of writing!

Rochelle said...

Great post, looking forward to more research on this too. I think you have a great insight on Samantha and your goals for her are perfect to fit her strengths.

Leah said...

Great food for thought. and your comment about cutting off your nose to spite you're face is perfect. sounds like a good choice. I think I'm still learning about coras learning style. I imagine she is visual but since her biggest obvious strength is signing it can confuse me. yes I know she learned by watching and doing but she is amazing at translating what she hears into signs. she is constantly signing the words she hears with no prompting. perhaps the visual learning process was just so thorough that they are fully ingrained by now. I love posts like this.

Anonymous said...

"I know that we need to play to her strengths, rather than push for equal learning with the rest of her peers just to prove a point." BRAVO, MY FRIEND. BRAVO!

Yo Mamma Mamma! said...

I can't understand why Violette can watch me do something obscure one time on the iPad (for instance changing the brightness setting) and remember how I did and and make the same change on another device, yet she can't remember the numbers in her address. Memory is odd in these little people - I agree!

Laura said...

I've bookmarked this post! Because of Ben's ACC, he's had MRIs done. His hippocampus is malformed and from what I understand, that is common with Down syndrome and affects memory. I often think about how he will learn and how I will need to help him.

Anna said...

Very interesting post. We had two incidents in January/February. ( I can't remember! Ha ha!) we were at the dinner table and out of the blue Grace said" en boca?" Wile holding up her fork. Asking in Spanish"in mouth?" We died laughing. It had been 2.5 years since being in Ecuador and no Soanish since say Nov 2010! She did it again a week or so later," dame?" Holding out her hand,"give me" she has dne very well with the flash cards for learning her dolch sight words. I can't wait till things really start clicking together though. Thank you for this post!