Work work work work working memory

There were a ton of publications on working memory this month. It’s clearly a hot topic right now in the research world for both speech and language disorders (*cue the intervention studies*). Even some studies that weren’t examining working memory used those two magic words in the discussion section.
Across nearly all the working memory papers, authors mention difficulties in clearly defining this cognitive process, and also in identifying tasks that measure working memory specifically (without simultaneously measuring other cognitive or linguistic skills or processes). This, coupled with the fact that children with speech sound disorders and language disorders are quite heterogeneous groups (so not all of them will have the same cognitive processing skills), it’s a real challenge to consider all the variables at play in these studies!
Nonetheless, even though we’re still not quite certain how to best incorporate measures of working memory into assessment (or therapy) current research indicates that it is a factor at play with many of our clients with speech and/or language disorders. Thus, it’s something that clinicians should be at minimum considering during the clinical process.
Working memory and speech:
Eaton & Ratner: The authors try to sort out whether a variety of executive functions (working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility) impact children’s speech sound development. They give a variety of cognitive tasks to children with high-average, low-average, and disordered speech. Speech skill was found to be related to performance on certain working memory tasks, leading the authors to conclude that working memory may play a role in phonological maturation. They predict that it’s harder for children with speech sound disorders to produce accurate speech when their mental representation of the correct adult model in short-term memory is perhaps “inaccurate or less available”.
Waring et al.: The authors found that preschoolers with phonological delay (specifically, “typical but delayed error patterns only”) performed more poorly than matched controls on tasks of phonological short-term memory, phonological working memory, and receptive vocabulary. They suggest that understanding the why behind speech sound disorders can help us better identify appropriate therapy techniques, particularly when there may be many “whys” (e.g. motor, listening, cognitive difficulties) that vary per client. They also emphasize that the children’s “difficulties ‘holding’ phonological information in short-term memory” could be either the cause or result of their speech disorder.
Working memory and language:
Archibald: Provides a review of research on the assessment and treatment of working memory and language. The author points to the few studies examining working memory treatment for children with language impairment, but notes that there may be a bidirectional relationship where improving language skills improves working memory, too. The author states, “By considering the particular profile of a child’s strengths and weaknesses in relevant processes, clinicians might consider intervention targeting deficits in working memory or language, or involving explicit teaching of strengths-based strategies. The majority of available evidence favors the latter two approaches.”
Henry & Botting: This article also reviews research on working memory in the assessment and treatment of language. Many of the studies covered point to central executive difficulties in children with developmental language impairment. At the end of the paper, the authors present a variety of instructional strategies for classroom teachers and clinicians to use when working with a child who is suspected to have difficulty with working memory. These tips should be weighed carefully, though, because (as noted previously) we still don’t have a clear picture of exactly what clinicians should be doing to address possible working memory deficits in their clients with language disorders.

Archibald, L.M.D. (2016). Working memory and language learning: A review. Child Language
     Teaching and Therapy. 
Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0265659016654206

Eaton, C.T., & Ratner, N.B. (2016). An exploration of the role of executive functions in
     preschoolers' phonological development. Clinical Linguistic and Phonetics. Advance
     online publication. doi:10.1080/02699206.2016.1179344

Henry, L.A., & Botting, N. (2016). Working memory and developmental language
     impairments. Child Language Teaching and Therapy. Advance online publication.

Waring, R., Eadie, P., Liow, S.R., Dodd, B. (2016). Do children with phonological delay have
     phonological short-term and phonological working memory deficits? Child Language
     Teaching and Therapy.