Memory and Executive Skills in Youth with Learning Disorders

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Department of Health and Human Services
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Phase I
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260 E. 11th Avenue, EUGENE, OR, -
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(541) 342-7227
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(541) 342-7227
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DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): In 2006 5.5% of school-aged children in the U.S. received special education for a learning disability. Learning disabilities provide a significant public health concern since school failure poses an enormous risk for the affected child. There is now general agreement that working memory functions play a key role in student's ability to learn. Working memory refers to the ability to store and manipulate information for brief periods of time. In the context of learning, both proper working memory capacity and working memory executive functioning are critical, as they are needed to construct and modify information and to pass the information on to long-term memory. Thus, working memory function poses an important constrainton students' ability to learn. According to Swanson, the overall correlation between working memory measures and achievement have been found to range between .55 and .95. A large literature provides evidence that children with learning disabilities do notperform as well on working memory tests as typically developing children do. Swanson and Berninger have demonstrated consistently poor working memory performance in children with all types of learning disabilities or difficulties. These results indicate that working memory impairments are an important contributor and underlying factor that contribute to learning disabled students' academic failure. Recent evidence suggests considerable plasticity in working memory functions, which offers the potential foran effective intervention in children with learning disabilities. The ultimate goal of such interventions is to achieve improved academic performance once the working memory limitations are ameliorated. This project will produce and test a self-paced web-based training program designed to enhance working memory capacity and executive skills in 7 to 9 year old children with learning disabilities. The training regime will involve intensive exposure (5 weeks of daily training) and will be delivered into individuals' homes via the Internet. Training effects in the treatment group will be compared to a wait-list control group in pretest, posttest, and one month follow-up assessments. Outcome measures will include near and far transfer tests on working memory functionality, a fluid intelligence test, and measures of academic performance (e.g., Woodcock- Johnson III Test of Achievement), as well as parent ratings on learning disability symptoms. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: A learning disability in one or more academic areas poses a significant risk for future academic failure and related problem behavior. This program has the potential to improve working memory functioning (e.g. short term working memory capacity and executive control) in children with a learning disability. Improved working memory function will enhance the aptitude for learning and instruction in school or special education environments.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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