Memory and Learning Problems

Developmental Considerations

Memory may become a problem for children with FASD as they approach their school years. They may need improvement with verbal and visual learning and memory, such as:

  • Remembering items presented in no specific order ("free recall").
  • Remembering items from a list when given cues to remember each item ("cued recall").
  • Remembering information immediately after it is presented ("immediate recall") and after a delay ("delayed recall").
  • Remembering specific events or information that happened in the past ("recalling") may be more difficult for these children than identifying something as previously experienced ("recognition").
  • Memory processes that require more effort, such as consciously controlling their thoughts to remember an event (“explicit memory”). For example, a child might have a very hard time telling someone what happened at school today. Memory responses that are more automatic are less likely to be impaired, such as completing a familiar task ("implicit memory"). For example, a child might have no trouble remembering how to turn on the computer and start up their favourite game.
  • Storing information in their memory temporarily while working with that information to do something else (for example, remembering a phone number someone has just told you while dialing that phone number on your phone). This is called working memory. Working memory is related to executive function.

Researchers have found some problems with memory involving visual and spatial information in children with FASD, although more research still needs to be done.

  • People with FASD may have difficulties with working memory that continue from childhood into adulthood. Some research has also found problems with memory involving visual and spatial information in adolescents and adults with FASD.

When a person with FASD seems to have trouble remembering verbal information, it might actually be because that person has trouble learning the information in the first place. What looks like a memory problem might actually be a learning problem. In this case, the person may be able to remember information just fine once they have properly learned it.

Prenatal alcohol exposure causes damage to many areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area of the brain involved in memory processes.

Difficulty understanding language might contribute to memory problems since language development plays a large part in verbal memory. As mentioned above, verbal memory problems may be due to a problem with encoding information, rather than a problem with retention of information. Encoding difficulties may also play a part in the inconclusive findings seen in visual-spatial memory research.

When children with FASD lie, it may be due to a memory problem, i.e. a child may not remember whether an event really happened or whether it was a dream or something they simply thought about. Punishing a lie might not be the right consequence- you could be punishing a short term memory deficit.

Memory problems, along with difficulties in executive functioning, may be a factor in a person's failure to learn from consequences.

Memory and learning problems can make daily life tricky. An individual with the appropriate memory and learning intervention may improve functioning in:

  • Following directions (often seen in children with FASD)
  • Academic functioning (Children and adolescents are expected to rely upon their memory for most academic subjects)
  • Social Difficulties (For example, remembering the name of someone you have met before or important information about them)
  • Workplace settings (For example, someone with a memory problem may have a difficult time remembering schedules, order of procedures, etc.)

If using good strategies when learning, someone with FASD can create an anchor to build further information on, therefore helping the memory process. People with FASD tent to retain information for a while, then forget it. This can happen the the "anchored" information, then all information that was built upon it is also lost.


Motivation and Learning
Video presentation by Nathan Ory on strategies to motivate learning (from POPFASD)

Why Typical Behavioural Approaches May Not Work
Video presentation by Nathan Ory: Why typical behavioural approaches may not work for kids with FASD; ideas for effective intervention strategies (from POPFASD)

Memory Difficulties
Video presentation by Stacey Wakabayashi: memory problems and accomodations for memory issues (from POPFASD)

Understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): A Comprehensive Guide For Pre-K -8 Educators
FASD overview, teaching and learning strategies for the classroom (Written by Chandra D. Zieff, M.Ed. and Rochelle D. Schwartz-Bloom, Ph.D.)
Memory and learning problems: pp. 45-51

What Educators Need to Know about FASD: Working Together to Educate Children in Manitoba with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
FASD overview; common characteristics of FASD; strategies for teachers and parents to assist in meeting the needs of children (from Healthy Child Manitoba)
Memory and learning problems: pp. 34-35

Cognitive Interventions to Improve Math Skills
Video webinar with handouts Dr. Carmen Rasmussen and Dr. Jacqueline Pei discuss math deficits in FASD. Looking at existing math research in Atlanta and replicating the research in Alberta with some modifications. Contains information on organizational skills and memory strategies (from FASD CMC Alberta)

Cognitive Interventions to Improve Memory
Video webinar: Dr. Jacqueline Pei and Dr. Carmen Rasmussen discuss research on memory interventions- efficacy in the lab, does it work in the classroom, and is it feasible. Evidence in terms of practice interventions with FASD is emerging (from FASD CMC Alberta)

Becoming a Successful Adult Learner
Video presentation with handouts by Lindsay McKerness, Emily Gidden (MSW) and Denise Theunissen (MEd). Profiles the Bow Valley College program in Alberta- transitioning as an adult learner to post secondary schools with supports for learning disabilities. Memory strategies used in the program are discussed in section 5 (from FASD CMC Alberta)

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Building Strengths, Creating Hope (Programming for Students with Special Needs: Book 10)
Overview of FASD; Concepts for teaching and strategies to help with learning needs (from Alberta Education)
Memory information and strategies: pp. 89-93

Why Some People Can "Say" or "Talk" More Than They Can Understand and Remember
Nathan E. Ory, M.A., explains the relationship between language and communication difficulties and memory and offers strategies (from POPFASD)


Visual Schedules
Visual Schedule resources for individuals with special needs (from Do2Learn)

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effects: A Resource Guide for Teachers
Website containing information for teachers (along with strategies) about students with FASD, attention problems, cause and effect thinking, social skills, personal skills, memory, language, motor skills, and specific academic subjects (from BC Ministry of Education)