Does short term memory problems explain language ability in children with DLD?

Lahti-Nuuttila, P., Service, E., Smolander, S., Kunnari, S., Arkkila, E., & Laasonen, M. (2021). Short-Term Memory for Serial Order Moderates Aspects of Language Acquisition in Children With Developmental Language Disorder: Findings From the HelSLI Study. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 1008.

Aim of the paper:

Short-term memory (STM) for serial order plays a role in language development, such as in vocabulary learning. Although a link between language disorders and impairment of STM for serial order has been suggested, a limited number of studies have explored STM for serial order and developmental language disorder (DLD). This study aimed to investigate whether children with and without DLD show differences in the performance of non-verbal STM serial order tasks. The relationship between age, non-verbal STM for serial order, and language competence for expressive language, receptive language, and language reasoning were also examined.

Key terms:

Short-term memory (STM): the reproduction, recognition, or recall of a limited amount of material after a period of about 10 to 30 seconds (American Psychological Association, n.d.)

STM for serial order: when given an unfamiliar sequence of items, the ability to put the items in the correct order. For example, putting shapes in the order that they were shown on the screen after 30 seconds.

What was found:

· Better non-verbal STM for serial order was associated with greater growth of receptive language competence across development in children with DLD, but not in children without DLD.

· The same association was not found for either expressive language or language reasoning.

· STM for serial order improved more slowly across development in children with DLD than children without DLD.

What does this mean?

The findings indicate that children with DLD show greater difficulty in STM serial order processing than those without DLD. In addition, it suggests that this difficulty may create problems in gaining language skills effectively in children with DLD. Considering the findings, it may be useful for clinicians to use assessments of non-verbal STM for serial order along with existing verbal assessments to identify and diagnose DLD in children. Using assessments of non-verbal STM for serial order may be especially helpful in situations where the verbal assessment of the child is not reliable enough, such as when assessing a bilingual child with their second language.

Where can I read this paper?

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