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Deaf Auditory Learner Has Long-Term Memory Problems

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: Hi. I am a late deafened adult, I am gifted but I also was diagnoised as having an auditory perception problem. When I took your learning styles quiz, it said I was an auditory learner. Since I am profoundly deaf, this was terrifying to me. Any suggestions?

I just graduated from law school, but I would like to find a way to be able to retain information longer (especially names). I have normal speech and I am able to read a type of sign language based on ASL signs in English order, called transliteration. Any resources or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Oh yeah, I read VERY quickly with good comprehension. My problem seems to be LONG-term memory.

A: Since you just graduated from law school (congratulations!) you have obviously been able to use your intellectual talents well despite your deafness. I certainly don't want you to be terrified by any quiz, especially one that's meant as a simple screening tool for a general audience. Remember, the quiz-makers did not build in a way for you to inform them about your deafness, so this quiz can't really be regarded as a valid measure of learning style. Since you are interested in learning more about your learning strengths and weaknesses, you may want to consider being evaluated by a professional who is trained in learning styles (and learning disabilities) in adults who have acquired deafness later in life. The speech and audiology department of a local hospital is a good place to start.

You say that you were diagnosed as having an auditory perception problem. I assume that this assessment was made when you were hearing better, since auditory perception is always impaired in people who are deaf. If the diagnosis was made when you were able to hear, it doesn't make a great deal of difference now in a practical way, but it may say something about your learning preference. Since you said you are profoundly deaf, this means that you may hear some loud sounds, but that you are aware of vibrations more than tones. As a person who is profoundly (or extremely) deaf, sounds need to be greater than 90 decibels for you to hear them, whereas a hearing person would hear at 0 dB. As a result, you rely on vision rather than hearing as a primary avenue for communication. Because of this, the issue of auditory perception is moot. If we were talking about sight and not hearing, the parallel example would be someone who once wore glasses for nearsightedness and then lost his vision; the blindness becomes the primary issue -- not the nearsightedness.

You obviously have skills that you can use to be successful. Your speech is unaffected since you learned to talk and use language before you lost your hearing. You are also able to use sign language which takes advantage of your intact vision. However, you say that your main problem is your poor long term memory. There are a lot of reasons for poor memory. Sometimes very bright and creative people have so much going on in their heads they seem forgetful or absent-minded. Other people can remember things that they just saw or learned, but find it hard to recall facts, figures or main ideas later on. If you were a good auditory learner before you lost your hearing, you may still have that learning style, but you have lost the ability to get auditory input. This means that you have to now "hear things in your head," much the same as someone who reads silently. Some people can remember better when they "re-auditorize," or repeat what they see or hear out loud. You can't do this, so you have lost a valuable source of input that your brain might need to get things from short term storage to longer term storage. There are ways to improve your long term memory that don't have to involve speech -- a classic book on memory was written by the famous basketball player Jerry Lucas (co-authored by Harry Lorayne, published by Ballantyne). You can learn about techniques such as "chunking," or breaking longer strings of information into groups that the human mind can manage (for example, seven digits seems to be the limit for most of us). Or you might try a technique called multiple categorization, which involves mentally linking a concept to as many others that you can think of that are in that category. Browse the self-help section of your bookstore (or Internet bookstore), and you will find many resources that will help.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.


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