Procedural and Declarative Memory in Children with Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy

Sammanfattning: The procedural deficit hypothesis (PDH) posits that a range of language, cognitive and motor impairments associated with specific language impairment (SLI) and developmental dyslexia (DD) may be explained by an underlying domain-general dysfunction of the procedural memory system. In contrast, declarative memory is hypothesized to remain intact and to play a compensatory role in the two disorders. The studies in the present thesis were designed to test this hypothesis.Study I examined non-language procedural memory, specifically implicit sequence learning, in children with SLI. It was shown that children with poor performance on tests of grammar were impaired at consolidation of procedural memory compared to children with normal grammar. These findings support the PDH and are line with previous studies suggesting a link between grammar processing and procedural memory.In Study II, the same implicit sequence learning paradigm was used to test procedural memory in children with DD. The DD group showed a learning profile that was similar to that of children with SLI in Study I, with a significant impairment emerging late in learning, after extended practice and including an overnight interval. Further analyses suggested that the DD impairment may not be related to overnight consolidation but to the effects of further practice beyond the initial practice session. In contrast to the predictions of the PDH, the sequence learning deficit was unrelated to phonological processing skills as assessed with a nonword repetition task.Study III examined declarative memory in DD. The performance of the DD group was found to be not only intact, but even enhanced, compared to that of the control children. The results encourage further studies on the potential of declarative memory to compensate for the reading problems in DD.In sum, the results lend partial support for the PDH and suggest further refinements to the theory. Collectively, the studies emphasize the importance of going beyond a narrow focus on language learning and memory functions in the characterization of the two disorders. Such a broader cognitive, motor and language approach may inform the development of future clinical and pedagogical assessment and intervention practices for SLI and DD.