Learning and memory describes the ability to take in, process, store, and recall information. This may be information that we have heard (e.g., spoken instructions) or seen (e.g., being shown the location of items). Learning and remembering information relies on many different skills. First, we need to take in the new information. This relies on sensory processes (e.g., hearing, seeing, touching) and cognitive processes (e.g., paying attention, concentrating, processing information quickly, and storing information in an organised way). Once information is learned, we also need to be to get that knowledge from memory stores.
Learning can also be for movements or actions, like learning how to kick a footy. Learning new motor skills (‘procedural learning’) is thought to be developed through experience, with the process of learning controlled by different parts of the brain compared to when we learn new information about things we see or hear. This means that kids who have challenges learning new verbal information may not have any additional challenges in learning motor skills. Some kids with motor conditions (e.g., challenges controlling or planning body movements, knowing where their body is in space, and/or being able to monitor and change body movements) may find learning motor skills more challenging, meaning they may need more practice or the activity modified.
It is common for kids to differ in the way they learn information. Some kids are very good at learning verbal information, which means that may only need to be told something once for them to recall it. Other kids may be better at learning and recalling things they have seen.
There are many things that can impact learning and memory. Some children with disabilities or developmental disabilities find learning and memory challenging. Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can find it challenging to pay attention and concentrate for a long time. This makes it hard for them to take in and process information, making learning more challenging.
Kids with intellectual disability often require information to be simplified and repeated to support their learning as much as possible.
Children with other developmental challenges like autism spectrum disorder may have strengths in their visual learning skills but challenges with their verbal learning. This means that using visual aids (e.g. pictures) and hands-on tasks are likely to make learning easier.
Kids with acquired brain injury (e.g. stroke, head injury) and cerebral palsy can have learning and memory challenges, depending on how the brain has been affected.
When a kid is anxious or worried, learning is also more challenging, as their thinking is focused on the things that is concerning them rather than the information they are meant to be learning.
Kids with learning and memory challenges may take longer to learn new information. If a child is having difficulties learning new information, it may look like they are not following instructions, when in fact they are unsure what has been asked of them.
To maximise a kid’s learning skills, it helps to think about what things may be contributing to the learning challenges. This might include considering whether the child can see and hear clearly, and/or whether they have cognitive challenges, language or communication challenges, attention challenges, or are anxious or worried.