Role of domain in working memory performance of children with DLD

Larson, C., & Ellis Weismer, S. (2022). Working Memory Performance in Children With Developmental Language Disorder: The Role of Domain. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1044/2022_jslhr-21-00420


What was the aim?


Extensive research indicates that children with developmental language disorder (DLD) show several verbal deficits relative to their typically developing (TD) peers. However, this paper aimed to focus on deficits presented in ‘non-verbal processes’, which are crucial for working memory performance (e.g., time taken to process information). There are three main processing-based hypotheses concerning DLD, used to explain this deficit; (a) limitation in the verbal aspects of working memory, (b) slowed processing speed, and (c) inefficient inhibition of interference (e.g. distractions from other, past memories). In an attempt to integrate these hypotheses, the researchers used the serial-order-in-a-box-complex span computational model as their theoretical framework. This requires participants to remember a set of items in the correct order (‘serial order’) whilst performing another task (such as judging whether an equation is correct or not). The role of domain (verbal or nonverbal) in working memory performance was examined by varying the domain of interference and recall task demands (e.g. what they are required to memorise as part of the task).


Key terms:

Working memory – A processing system that can hold information temporarily, whilst focusing on another task. For example, remembering key information in a story as it is told, whilst trying to work out what the conclusion may be; or remembering a person’s address whilst listening to directions on how to get there.

Processing speed – time taken to process information.

Domain – type of information, such as verbal or non-verbal.

Interference – distractions from successful processing, such as previous memories. For example, struggling to remember a friend’s new phone number, because their old number keeps coming into your mind.


What was found?


  • Children with DLD showed poorer verbal as well as nonverbal working memory performance compared to their typically developing peers

  • Both children with DLD and TD children benefited from task demands being within one domain (i.e. all verbal or all non-verbal)

  • Verbal interference had a greater effect on working memory performance of children with DLD compared to nonverbal interference


What does it mean?


This paper confirms the aforementioned hypotheses concerning processing of DLD children. There were some deficit patterns observed in DLD which are related to limitations in verbal aspects of working memory, processing speed, and inhibition of interference. DLD children performed more poorly in working memory tasks. Given the importance of verbal interference in children with DLD, parents, educators, and clinicians should be mindful of the rate as well as quantity of verbal information provided in home, school, and therapy sessions. The use of nonverbal information to support processing is considered rather useful.


Where can I read this paper?


This paper is open access, which means everyone can read it.

Please click here to find the full paper.