The white board and the Etch-a-Sketch

A less well known difficulty that people with dyslexia and dyspraxia have is faulty memory, especially working memory. As with so many things, it’s not that obvious how your working memory functions until you see it going wrong.

I’m no expert, but I’ve been reading up on this a bit and I think I’ve found a way of explaining it to myself (and usually if I can explain something to me, I can explain it to anyone)

There are different types of memory – long term and short term. There are different subcategories within these two. Short term memory is the main issue for neurodiverse people.

For most people, short term memory (aka working memory) is like a little white board carried around with them. Information needed is jotted down for reference. There’s a limited amount of space. When the board is full, old parts get wiped clean to be used again. The writing on the board can get smudged sometimes, if something happens to interfere.


For the neurodiverse among us, short term memory has more limitations. It acts, I think, more like an Etch a Sketch…

An Etch-a-Sketch has two dials that are used to draw a picture – one controls the ‘pen’ going up-down, one controls left-right. To make a picture, it’s more convoluted than a normal way of drawing. The process is more labour intensive. And if the Etch-a-Sketch gets shaken, then the image disappears – sometimes partly, sometimes altogether. Funnily enough, it’s not always that easy to get rid of the image in progress when you do want to!

The reason why a dyspraxic or dyslexic person’s Etch-a-Sketch would get ‘shaken’ could be any number of things. Our brains process information differently, so an overload of background noise might do it. Being interrupted mid-task can be a problem too. Or needing to do something else at the same time.

A non-dyspraxic person has a more efficient way of creating and storing short term information/memory. The ‘white board’ isn’t perfect – it can run out of space for example, or it can get smudged – though this is less likely than the Etch-a-Sketch getting shaken. The Etch-a-Sketch does at least have it’s unique, quirky charm going for it.

Ok well this analogy makes sense to me…so I’m hoping it will help others to understand too…one of the many issues neurodiverse people face.


One thought on “The white board and the Etch-a-Sketch

  1. Our son who’s now 4 3/4 was diagnosed with verbal and motor dyspraxia when he was just over 3. He’s always had memory issues – both changing ingrained memories/routines and getting him to remember new information. I see the analogy you described outworking daily. Excellent way of describing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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