Attention and memory
Attention is a preverbal skill most children develop before they start to talk. Attention refers to the child’s ability to focus on an object, activity, or person for an extended period of time.
Memory refers to a person’s ability to hold information for both a short period of time and to recall the information after a delay (an extended period of time).
Our speech and language therapists can assess your child’s attention and memory skills to determine any possible difficulties your child may be experiencing and the impact the difficulties may have on your child’s communicative skills. Our speech and language therapists will provide you with a therapy programme that works on increasing your child’s attention and memory skills to the appropriate level.
Speech and language therapy can increase your child’s attention and memory skills through the use of different games and activities. Increased attention and memory skills increases a child’s receptive language skills as well as overall communicative ability.
What is attention?
Attention is the ability to focus on a particular item, this is done by using the senses. Attention requires a child to maintain their focus for a particular length of time. Your ability to focus is therefore dependent on maturation and the development of other skills such as vision, hearing, memory and perception. Attentional abilities can be impacted on by a child’s emotional state, tiredness, hunger and their health (sickness).
Joint attention is the ability to share attention with another person on an activity (e.g. a conversation or listening to a speech). Joint attention is vital for communicative competence, learning, and aiding the development of social and cognitive skills.
Activities that require joint attention such as reading together or playing games where the adult comments on objects and actions, is found to increase early vocabulary development and later reading skills.
For a child to have successful receptive language they must be able to hold joint attention. The child must avoid being distracted in order to know what is being said and respond appropriately. The child must also be able to remember what was said in order to respond appropriately and recall on previous information they have received to aid the conversation.
What is memory?
Memory is made up of three main components, including:
- Holding onto information that is received through our senses.
- Processing and storing information.
- Retrieving information when needed.
There are two different types of memory; long term memory and short term memory (also known as the working memory). Short term memory does not last very long and is only used immediately to process information. If the information is deemed important it is stored in the long term memory.
Working memory is important to language as it allows you to process what you have heard. Your working memory retrieves information from your long term memory, to understand the meaning of what is said and to process the word order. If you have received new information your working memory will process this and store it in your long term memory as well as making links to information you already have.
Memory is important for many aspects of language such as:
- Language comprehension.
- Verbal reasoning.
- Retrieving previous knowledge to respond or understand.
- Learning new vocabulary.
For a child to process more information and hold it in their long term memory information must:
- Involve as many of the senses as possible (multi-sensory approach).
- Information should be chunked e.g. 123 456 789 instead of 123456789.
- Information should have a meaningful association.
- Information should be linked to previous knowledge.
- Information should be repeated several times in different manners.
Impact of attention and memory difficulties on receptive language
Difficulties with attention or memory can impact a child’s receptive language abilities. For example:
- Difficulties following instructions.
- May only remember parts of the instruction e.g. what was said first or last.
- Difficulty learning new words.
- Difficulties taking part in a conversation as the child can’t pay attention to what is being said for long enough.
- Difficulty taking part in conversation because the child can’t remember what has been said.
- Difficulties taking turns.
- Difficulty listening and retaining information.
- Child may only be able to focus on auditory information and not body language and environmental context.
- Difficulty extracting important information, such as word order or verbal intent.
- Difficulty shifting attention to attend to what is being said.
A child who has attention difficulties can struggle to follow instructions or extract important information from what a person is saying as they find it difficult to attend to another person for an extended period of time. Often children will resort to looking around at what others are doing and copy or look for clues in the communicative environment to increase their understanding of what to do.
Our speech and language therapists can help children who have difficulties with attention and memory by giving parents and teacher’s activities and advice to increase the child’s attention and memory. Children can also increase these skills by attending a pre-verbal skills group set up by the therapist to increase childrens pre-verbal language skills, to aid better interaction. Our speech and language therapists will also work with the child’s parents and teachers to create an environment that increases the child’s communicative competence.