How Visuospatial Working Memory May Be Impacting Your ADHD Teen’s Ability to Get Good Grades

As any parent of a teen with ADHD knows, it can be incredibly difficult for them to stay focused and keep up academically. No matter how hard they try, their academic performance can often suffer due to the struggles that come with having ADHD. 

One cognitive ability in particular, visuospatial working memory (VSWM), may be an underlying factor that could be causing your teen to flounder in school. In this post, we’ll explore what VSWM is and how it relates to ADHD, as well as five primary problems you should look out for that could signal if your teen’s VSWM is lagging behind.

What is Visuospatial Working Memory?

Visuospatial working memory (VSWM) is a form of short-term memory that enables us to identify, store, and retrieve information about physical spaces. It helps us make sense of things such as objects’ locations in space or map routes when driving to unfamiliar places. This type of memory is essential for performing everyday activities such as following instructions from teachers, comprehending what we read, dealing with math problems, organizing materials visually, and more. For teens with ADHD, poor visuospatial working memory can lead to even greater difficulty paying attention or keeping up with school work.

What Visuospatial Working Memory is Essential For

Our brains are constantly receiving visual information from our environment, and we use VSWM to process and make sense of it. As we move around our world, we rely on VSWM to remember where certain items are located, figure out directions, and complete tasks quickly using spatial relationships. We also use VSWM to focus on conversations, take notes, organize all of our thoughts, and analyze data. When our VSWM is not functioning properly, these activities become extremely challenging and overwhelming.

How Visuospatial Working Memory is Measured

There are several methods used to measure VSWM, including tests that measure mental rotation, Recall of Objects, Spatial Span analysis, and more. These tests require subjects to arrange shapes or recall a string of numbers presented in a specific order. Depending on the complexity of the test, VSWM can take anywhere from seconds to minutes to complete. Low scores on a battery of VSWM tests generally suggest difficulties with conceptualizing and applying visuospatial information.

How It Can Impact Your Teen’s Ability To Learn

Teens with weaker VSWM skills might find basic tasks in school to be increasingly hard. Following instructions from a teacher becomes much more complicated since they have to break down the detailed steps in the instruction into chunks they can understand and then apply them accordingly. Taking notes during class becomes a challenge too since they have to store the information in a way that makes sense to them spatially.

Math problems become complex because they have to visualize different angles and objects involved in problem solving before arriving at solutions. Reading comprehension takes longer because they struggle to mentally construct the context of the story. And organizing materials like textbooks and notebooks requires extra effort since they must maintain structure and order in their minds. With weak VSWM skills, maintaining order and direction becomes very difficult.

The 5 Primary Problems That You’ll Notice If Your Teen’s Visuospatial Memory Is Lagging

When our teens experience issues with their VSWM, there are usually five primary problems that parents will notice:

  • They struggle to follow directions when looking for personal items like backpacks and car keys.
  • Tidying their room or other areas of clutter becomes arduous since they cannot recall simple spatial rules to help organize or store items efficiently.
  • Driving to unfamiliar new destinations poses a challenge since they cannot visualize and interpret maps or directions clearly.
  • Playing video games that require following multiple steps instantly becomes frustrating since they lack the visual processing capability necessary for success.
  • Trying to complete creative projects involving understanding spatial relations is almost impossible without significant assistance.

It’s important to note that having trouble with VSWM does not necessarily mean that your child has ADHD; however, it could certainly be a sign that something else is happening neurologically. Understanding your teen’s VSWM issues can provide insight into why he or she might be struggling in school and enable you to seek appropriate intervention and support.

Key Takeaways

  • Visuospatial working memory (VSWM) is a form of short-term memory responsible for helping us make sense of physical spaces.
  • VSWM plays an integral role in everyday tasks such as following instructions, taking notes, organizing materials, and reading comprehension.
  • Teens with weakened VSWM skills may face additional challenges such as slower math problem solving, confusion when trying to locate personal items, and frustration when playing video games.
  • If your teen is struggling to keep up in school, pay close attention to signs of poor VSWM and consider seeking further interventions to address the issue.

Having a better understanding of your teen’s tendencies and abilities can prove invaluable when it comes to providing supportive guidance throughout their academic journey. By recognizing the potential impact of visuospatial working memory on learning outcomes, hopefully as a parent you’re now armed with the tools you need to create meaningful change in your teen’s life.



Safren, S. A., Sprich, S., Mimiaga, M. J., Surman, C., Knouse, L., Groves, M., & Otto, M. W. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy vs relaxation with educational support for medication-treated adults with ADHD and persistent symptoms: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 304(8), 875-880.


Neurocognitive Training:

Cortese, S., Ferrin, M., Brandeis, D., Buitelaar, J., Daley, D., Dittmann, R. W., … & European ADHD Guidelines Group. (2015). Cognitive training for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Meta-analysis of clinical and neuropsychological outcomes from randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(3), 164-174.



Arns, M., de Ridder, S., Strehl, U., Breteler, M., & Coenen, A. (2009). Efficacy of neurofeedback treatment in ADHD: The effects on inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity: A meta-analysis. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(3), 180-189. 


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The information provided in this blog is for general educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the author's affiliates. The author and affiliates make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this blog and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. The author and affiliates shall not be liable for any errors or omissions in the content of this blog or for any damages arising therefrom or in connection with the use or performance of the information contained in this blog.

Rey Cortez

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