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Memory Help - Visual/Auditory Processing

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell


    How can this be??? Jeremy can comprehend every detail about his favorite sport and all his memory verses...yet cannot remember his times tables or spelling words for the week!

This frustration is common for families (and their children) homeschooling with learning disabilities, visual processing difficulties and dyslexia, among many other challenges such as autism.

We are parents of a wonderful bunch of children. God has made them all unique and perfect in His sight. Several have learning challenges in the academia area.

 In our family, we are working with moderate autism, Down syndrome, blindness (with mild retardation), stuttering and severe dyslexia. We have worked with memory quirks and visual processing inconsistencies for years. We can sympathize with you!

Keeping up with star homeschoolers (they left us behind long ago) used to really frustrate us. We looked for the "right" curriculum. We got suckered into programs that didn't work. Through trial and much error, we decided the best way to homeschool was an approach that used much critical observation, tailoring to the needs of each child. Even the wonderful unit study approach caused us to pull our hair out, as there are so many varied needs in our home.

Understanding memory and what it actually was (and wasn't) took some pressure off us, as we stopped taking personal our children's mental blocks.

Sharon Hensley's Winter 2001 newsletter mentions, in the beginning, a good information piece written on memory. We'd also like to give you some of the secrets we have learned about inputting information and helping our children understand. There is a difference you know! Some of our children can memorize lengthy passages and long words, but do not have a clue as to what they mean.

A surprising thing is that there is no such place in the brain called "memory". It is a process, not a place. This is helpful to us, as parents, as we present information to our children. Each of our children will hang information in a different place. For instance reading the words and spelling "For Sale" would be categorized in our 15-year-old son's brain as, "Information needed to sell my log home. Remember these two important words."

In our 12-year-old daughter's brain they would be, "I'll save this information in my Braille word memory, to help my older 15 year old brother when he forgets!"

Our 9-year-old would categorize these two words as, "Future important information for when I want to write an ad in the paper to sell my rabbits."

Each child has his specific purpose in choosing to file information. We find it important to help our children see exactly WHY they need to remember the information we want them to. (Our motivation might be that we don't want to look like a fool when they misspell or misread these two words in public!)

Because what our children see with their eyes may not be connected to what they hear, it may be more efficient to read out loud the spelling words, even connect them to a song or rhyme AND show them on paper or a black board.

The whole idea of memory is strange anyway. Why can we recall only certain events in our childhood? Why do certain smells, songs or sounds trigger memories? Sharon Hensley states in her article that there is a difference between purposeful and incidental memory.

What we need to help our children with is purposeful memory and that takes for them more thinking and trying.

In purposeful memory there are 4 stages.

1. Intake (Hearing or seeing information, choosing to remember it)

2. Registration (Understanding what they are seeing or hearing)

3. Storage (Choosing a file to hang in upstairs)

4. Access (Being able to communicate it back out again)

Intake - "Here is a picture of the Savannah grass lands in Africa, Jeremy. Lions live here." "Ahhhh..." Jeremy squints and the picture looking for the lion. (He loves lions)

"Where do they live again mom?"

" It's called a Savannah. It's like a huge field of grass many miles long. Here is how it is spelled. (Parent touching each letter S A V A N N A H).

Jeremy has a reason to remember "Savannah", what lives there and how. Finding an interest is key to helping our children remember. However, not everything is as easy to help our children relate to. Try to find some way for them to hook it on something in their brain they already remember. If not, using physical touch on the arm or back and stressing the importance of attention helps. This means for us actually saying, "we need to remember this fact". Try to use this only occasionally, not over using this prompt so it gets their undivided attention when you need it most.

Most of our children with severe learning problems must constantly be reminded to pay attention. This is why we keep our schooling in each subject to no more than 15 minutes at a time. Smaller pieces of time are less stressful. (except in the case of reading aloud VERY interesting stories that has them captured). Actually, on some days we have found that any more than the first 5 minutes can be a waste of time!

Registration (Short term memory)

How do we get our children to remember information? This can require some thinking ahead, even brainstorming with our child, on how to help them remember stuff. (Like making their bed in the morning!)

Coding is the process of quickly organizing information so that it can be retrieved right away. Rehearsal is a repetition of material in order to plant it more firmly in the brain, like we might if we are remembering a phone number. Here are some ways we have found to help us and our children remember things.

A. Eye contact with our children in a non-distracting atmosphere. No radios, TV or videos or loud activities by other children nearby.

B. Chunking information 1 8 7 5 4 6 becomes 187 546. This way there are only two pieces to remember instead of 6.

ball, flower, wallet, pickle, chair, paper becomes: ball, flower, wallet

pickle, chair, paper.

We can get quite good at chunking information into 4, 5 or even more sections.

C. We often have our children repeat our verbal or written instruction out loud, and then follow the instructions we gave. It is amazing how much the output varies from the input we just gave!

D. For short-term memory, the more we memorize, the more we remember. This does not necessarily apply to understanding. Complete understanding takes more than gathering of verbal facts.

Storage - This is taking short term info and turning it into long term. It takes more strategy. Codes are no longer enough. Now is the time linking information with already learned and understood information is key. We can help our children with long term memory by helping them create associations. The great thing about adding associations is that the more we add to a certain subject, the more we remember. That is how we get knowledgeable about cooking, laundry, sports, animals etc.

Difficulties in the area of long term storage and understanding usually mean a problem with poor imagery or thinking skills and lack of life understanding, such as with blindness, mild mental disability, autism and severe LD. To help us, we have used sequencing cards. These cards present a series of events such as steps to getting dressed, sorting of like objects such as fruit with fruit, animals with animals and grouping of similar things like all cats, all dogs. Classification (which are plant related, which are machine) and relating concepts ( things which go together like bat with ball, fishing with boat) also help.

Critical Thinking Press has a number of books in their "Building Thinking Skills". They address sequencing, classification and relational concepts. Request a catalog by calling 1-800-458-4849 or visit them on the web at


Important is the ability to communicate what we remember and use it out of our long-term memory. The time factor since input of information and the interruptions during retrieval (remembering) can make getting information out harder. For our children with memory difficulties, giving our children more time, fewer things to do at the same time as retrieval and less environmental interruptions can help.

We all use cues and memory aids. Example: In our family, there is no way we can remember all that we need to buy at Wal Mart, especially with all 9 children in tow! Here comes mom with her brains in her hand! (Otherwise known as a list.)

One of the ways we can help our children with permanent learning delays learn to function in a information required world, is to teach them how to use reminders. Our talented son, who has just built us a beautiful log home with his brother, has a hard time, under pressure, retrieving his own birth date, phone number and address. We have helped him cope with this frustration by laminating a card to place in his wallet with the needed information and numbers. He reads and copies them fine from there.

Distinguishing right from left is another common problem with those of us who have long term memory access difficulties. Wearing a wedding ring solved the right to left problem for Sherry and a yarn bracelet for awhile for another of our children who struggled.


Auditory or Silent Reading Comprehension is another area that can be improved with some simple exercises. As we have practiced learning daily, we have gotten into the habit of asking the questions of who, what, where, when, and why. This not only helps our children to practice concentrating on what they are hearing (mainly because they know Dad is going to ask them these questions), but helps them store the information for later on.

After reading a paragraph, we can help our children with sequencing by helping them relate what happened first, second, third, etc. For our very early stage learners, we have them draw a picture of what we have just read. We first start with Daddy asking what happened first, second. using vocal cues. Then later, when they are more practiced, have them verbally relate what happened. When the responses are wrong, we will reread the paragraph (or sentence), emphasizing the important part with a more exaggerated voice or slower reading tempo, gradually decreasing cues.

For our children who are reading, help them get into the habit of highlighting important information in books or material. For books we do not want marked up, we photocopy pages needed. We teach them to START by reading the questions asked BEFORE they read the material. That way their memory has a running start and they can catalog information for retrieval hopefully later.

Our children have learned to politely interrupt our reading (within reason) when they do not understand new words or what is happening.

Here are the seven analytical questions (Murphy and O'Donnal, 1974) that are great for helping to remember new nouns.

A. Where is it?

B. What does it do?

C. What color is it?

D. How does it feel?

E. What is it made up of?

F. What does it look like?

G. What else can you tell me about it?

We also ask our children to repeat the noun to us using it in their own sentence and context to see if they really understand it.

Visual Processing

If our children are experiencing problems with looking at something and remembering, it could be a part of a learning disability. Even children with perfect vision can have problems remembering what they see or inside their brain making an image of what they are hearing or reading. Some of us have trouble with visual-motor integration. This is getting our visual and motor systems to work together so we can accurately recall what we have read or heard.



Symbol imagery visual problems

For beginning learners, the first signs of a symbol imagery visual problem may come when our son or daughter cannot seem to picture a letter when it is verbally named. They may be able to name it when they see it, but verbally it doesn't ring a bell.

Language imagery problems may come when we can tell that they really struggle with creating a detailed picture in their minds from an oral description. With out visual imagery skills, language can quickly become overwhelming, and words and sounds a jumbled mess. People with poor imagery skills typically have poor spelling and poor reading comprehension. This is because " a picture is worth a thousand words". It is possible to have good symbol imagery and poor language imagery or the other way around.

Visual Memory

Once an image is created in the mind, it must be stored for recall later on. This process is known as visual memory. Ever heard of the term photographic memory? Our daughter with autism is especially good at this. She can remember incredible details for a long time and recall them years later. She'd be great at the baby shower game of looking at all the items on the tray for 30 seconds and recalling them later!

Having children mold letters in sand or in clay shapes, helps involve several senses and can improve recall. Games such as concentration are also good for helping improve visual memory skills.

Eye-Hand Coordination

(Visual-Motor Integration) Reproduction of an immediate image may be difficult for some of our children. Oddly enough though, eye-hand coordination may be the strength of children with other visual recalling problems, as in our son.

Children with eye-hand coordination problems may present slow handwriting writing often miss forming their letters past the time when this is "normal" (approximately 8 years old). This is demonstrating a difficulty in telling their hands to do what their eyes or visual memories can see.

An excellent book for this is in the NATHHAN lending library, Jerome Rosner's book Helping Children Overcome Learning Difficulties. Doing integration exercises such as those found in Diane Craft's book, Brain Integration Therapy, also helps visual-motor problems.

On a positive note, children who are able to master key boarding skills, that have eye-hand coordination problems, can get around the hand writing problem. The motor demands of typing do not require recall of how to write letters, only where to find them on the keyboard.

Children who are experiencing visual motor problems can really benefit from providing a rich language environment along with visual input. Use LOTS of oral discussion, charts, graphs, photos, time lines, videos and any other visual type of presentation. Hands-on is the key. Instead of reading about how to build a barn, make one out of Legos first and then out of wood.

Use closed captioned videos, those with sentences at the bottom of the screen. Let's creatively look at how we are presenting information to our children with visual processing struggles. Many times the same written or oral information can be translated into information they can remember.

From Sharon Hensley's newsletter, Turning Challenges Into Opportunities, here is an activity that really helps with visual-motor integration struggles and improves directional awareness at the same time.

Draw a large maze on a chalkboard or a large piece of butcher paper taped to the wall. Have child draw with a marker or chalk around the maze. Challenge him to stay on the road and not cross any of the lines of the maze. Have him tell you out loud which direction he is traveling along the maze (left, right, up, down). To make this exercise even more beneficial, make sure your child is crossing his mid line. Help him keep both of his shoulders parallel to the chalkboard or wall and draw the maze large enough so that he will have to reach across his body to draw within the maze. Make this activity fun by drawing a mouse at the start of the maze and a block of cheese at the other end.

A list of warning signs of vision problems can be read on PAVE (Parents Active for Vision Education

Cautionary note from Sharon Hensley's article:

If your youngster has cerebral palsy or is similarly handicapped, he/she could have a visual problem resulting from that neurological condition. The six muscles that rotate the eye in all directions, are activated by the third and fourth and sixth cranial nerves. If something goes wrong with the third cranial verve, for example, the youngster probably will have a strabismus in which the eye turns outward, the pupil dilated, and there is a loss of accommodation. If the eleventh cranial nerve also is involved, that will interfere with the function of the feedback loop between eyes and body that is needed for proper orientation.

Obviously, students with such neurological conditions will not be able to do sustained close work easily and efficiently. But that is because of a neurological problems, not a visual malfunction per se.

To find optometrists who have such post-doctoral training in developmental vision,

and who understand what is needed to correct near-space malfunctions, contact the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., Ste. 310, St. Louis, MO 63141-7851. 1-888-COVD-770 is the phone number. Or you can access a geographic directory of specialists who have the training at or e-mail at


Editor's Note:

Parts of this article are taken from Sharon Hensley's very interesting newsletter called Turning Challenges Into Opportunities. We highly recommend subscribing.

Her Contact information is...

AVCS Books

6291 Vegas Dr.

San Jose, CA 95120 (408) 997-0290

Visit her new web site (

Sharon's new email is