25
Jan
12

I heard what you said; I just forgot

An Attention Disorder is manifested in numerous ways because, quite simply, attention is involved in nearly every activity, even the generation of thoughts.

One common feature of an Attention Deficit is rapid forgetting of what one has just read or heard.  Consider Liz, whom I described in my 1/22/2012 posting.  Essentially, she couldn’t reliably register and maintain incoming information for a period of time sufficient to interpret or manipulate it in some way.  This process of data-maintenance is a function of Working Memory.  But Working Memory must be extremely reliable if one is to respond correctly to whatever the incoming information requires. And its processing powers are formidable.

If someone says the word “grand”, for instance, you will not be able to understand it until you register all the sounds of that word in Working Memory.  “Grand” consists of five sounds, /g/, /r/, /short a/, /n/, and /d/.  So each of these five sounds must be identified precisely.  If any one is inaccurately identified, you will not be able to identify the word.  Or you will misidentify the word (e.g. as “grand” or “grunt” or even “”can’t”).  In fact, you may not be able to tell whether what you heard is a word or not. When you listen to a young child speak, a person with a foreign accent, a drunken slur  or one with an unfamiliar dialect, you find yourself concentrating very hard. You narrow your eyes, watch their lips and facial expressions, focus intently on the sounds they’re producing and often enough ask them to repeat.  All you are trying to do is identify  sounds  so that you can assemble those sounds into a word you recognize.

Meanwhile, you are “holding” the sounds you do hear in Working Memory, sustaining them there until you finish your analysis or give up. I’ve been amazed with young mothers whose toddlers seem to be saying “Ahwanceal” and the mother instantly responds,“No it’s lunch time; cereal is only for breakfast.”  You might notice here that even determining how many words were said can be daunting because you can’t tell where one word ends and the next one begins (locally, the spoken unit “Jeweet?” is easily segmented into “Did you eat?” by a listener familiar with the local dialect patterns.).  Indeed, our ability to recognize slang, “accent” and dialect variations depends on precise identification of aberrant sounds as acceptable variants of standard sounds (the unit “Yall” is nonsense since there is no such word, yet few have difficulty assigning it the meaning of “You all”.)

Recognize that the time it takes to say “grand” amounts to a small fraction of a second. Recognize further that you effortlessly identify all its sounds in that sliver of time. The sentence, “I’ll be reading Dickens this afternoon” contains 25 sounds, yet all of them are easily identified in about 1.5 – 2.0 seconds. That’s over ten sounds a second.  And all this “Auditory Processing” takes place in Working Memory.

So, Working Memory  has to be extremely efficient and reliable.  But suppose it is NOT.  Suppose information (sounds) entering this system are very rapidly corrupted (deleted, mis-sequenced, garbled).  Or suppose that something heard exceeds the limits of Working Memory because it’s too long. Then, the information is lost or misinterpreted.  So, what was happening to Liz was that her Working Memory could not reliably and correctly “hold onto” language data (sounds, mainly).  So, before she could interpret what she heard, the data themselves were being corrupted…or erased.  And then, she suffered the consequences: misunderstanding in some cases, in others, instant and wholly INvoluntary forgetting.  In circumstances where she couldn’t request a repetition, she was defeated.  For her, forgetting what people said to her, forgetting what she’d just read were all too common experiences.  And when her job depended on efficient auditory processing, where the consequences of mis-hearing or mis-reading a direction, dosage amount, drug or patient name could be lethal, she despaired.  Because she couldn’t stop forgetting.

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