Home » Chapter 5: The FASD Student & Learning Issues » Difficulty with Information-Processing & Memory

Difficulty with Information-Processing & Memory

Information-processing deficits can occur in four domains: when information is recorded, interpreted, stored (memory), or retrieved.

Many students who have learning disabilities have information-processing deficits in one or two domains. The FASD student has processing deficits in all four domains. These deficits have significant impact on the student’s ability to learn academics and behaviors. When information is processed, the connections needed for appropriate actions or behaviors do not take place.

A malfunctioning word processor offers an analogy to understand how these deficits affect a
child’s ability. Although full sentences are typed into it, only pieces of the sentences can be
retrieved. Some information has not been saved or has unwittingly been stored in an inaccessible
place. Special cues may bring it back, or perhaps only pieces of sentences are available ;it is very
difficult to understand the full meaning of the typed text.
(Kleinfeld and Wescott, 1993)

The FASD student may appear to comprehend information that is presented to them. FASD students are very social and chatty, and their expressive language is much stronger than their receptive language. However, just because they are capable of repeating information back, does not mean that they understand. These students describe themselves as “lost” in class when trying to process information as the teacher presents it. They need more time to process information; typically, they learn at a slower pace.

Listening to teachers make speeches. I can’t handle that. I…just sat there looking at the book.
So I can read it okay, but I can’t listen to it properly. It’s like “What?” And then I totally, I
had to ask somebody, and then by the time I am asking somebody the question or the
answer, then I’ve already lost the next part too.
(Copeland and Rutman, 1996)

Memory difficulties are common with FASD students. While these students do have memory skills that allow them to learn, they are often unable to retrieve specific information when needed. Many students with learning difficulties have similar memory deficits; skills learned one day are forgotten the next, only to be recalled at some future time. Lost information is very frustrating for the student. Educational performance is inconsistent and unpredictable.brain memory-hippo

Marilyn is very inconsistent in her classroom performance. She reminds me of a piece of Swiss
cheese. The information slides down one hole in her brain, only to slip out of another hole. She
often does the work we have gone over that morning, but in the afternoon, or the next day, she
remembers very little. Then two days later, she can do the work again, with no new instruction.
She repeats this cycle over and over.
(Kleinfeld and Wescott, 1993)
* * *
… I have to write down everything in small steps or else I will forget how to do it.I used to get in
trouble for cheating at school, but I wasn’t cheating—I just needed to look at my book to see how
I did it before. I just couldn’t memorize things the way the others did.
(Copeland and Rutman, 1996)

Problems with memory and information-processing deficits are further compounded by attention difficulties. Due to this haphazard memory capability, many FASD students approach each day as brand new without continuity from the previous day. These students have many gaps in their learning due to information-processing and memory deficits.

Information processing and memory deficits of FASD students:

  • Difficulty translating information (hearing, reading, speaking) into appropriate behavior
  • Difficulty learning from past experiences
  • Difficulty generalizing
  • Difficulty perceiving similarities and differences
  • Difficulty with sequencing
  • Selective/spotty memory
  • Stored information is disorganized and hard to retrieve
  • Difficulty following rules

A mother says, “Don’t ride your bike in the street,” and points to the street in front of the house.
The child says, “O.K., Mom” and then rides his bike in another street. The child is unable to
generalize that the second street is different, and therefore, requires a new rule.
(Malbin, 1993)

They have difficulty recognizing cause-and-effect relationships:

  • Difficulty considering the effect of an action before initiating it
  • Difficulty changing behavior because of consequences
  • Behavior modification is ineffective

The information-processing and memory deficits lead to the following behaviors:

  • Familiarity with strangers
  • Frustration
  • Lying/confabulation