Ask An Expert / Learning

A 10-year-old boy has severe memory issues. What do you recommend his parents do? His public school?

A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation should be the first step

Michael Rosenthal, PhD

A ten-year-old boy has severe memory issues — doesn't remember basic details when reading or when listening to passages on or below grade level. He also does not have immediate recall of auditory strands or visual strands of shapes or colors. His efforts are notable, but his frustrations are growing and taking an emotional toll. His academic gaps are widening. What immediate steps do you recommend for his parents? His public school?

I recommend getting a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation because there are a lot of things that could be underlying a problem with auditory and visual recall. He could have an executive function challenge, so that he has trouble organizing new information, which also makes it difficult for him to recall it. It could be a language comprehension problem in that he may be having trouble understanding what he’s reading or what he’s hearing. It could be an expressive language problem, meaning that he actually comprehends information, but when he is quizzed on it he isn’t able to express himself fluently, so people may mistakenly think that he has memory issues. It could be that things are simply moving too fast for him — his memory is fine but he processes things at a slower pace so he’s not able to grasp everything presented in class. These different issues may also be associated with a specific learning disability, which would have a direct impact on his reading, writing, and math skills. Considering all the possibilities, I think the most important first step is figuring out which one of these things (or possibly which combination of things) the boy is struggling with through a neuropsychological evaluation. Understanding that will have implications for what he needs in school (that is, the appropriateness of his classroom, what types of extra support or accommodations he needs) and for his emotional well-being.