Improving working memory in a dyslexic teenager (bonus! verbal skills)
August 21, 2013 7:57 AM   Subscribe

This was last asked in 2007 for improving working memory in an ADHD teenager and I'm hoping there are new resources, especially geared to dyslexics. What are the current tools and thoughts about working memory improvement when there is a known deficit?

Our son's latest assessment has shown that he is still struggling a lot with working memory and verbal expression. Because he's pretty good at maths and very sweet-natured, no-one had suspected this. He is already in weekly dyslexia classes, listening audiobooks etc and has been referred for speech therapy for the verbal expression, and we have resources for that, although I'd be grateful for new ideas.

Google is bringing me a lot of woo Glenn Doman-type stuff or super-technical neuroscience and psychology papers that don't have practical suggestions on reducing deficits in working memory, especially due to dyslexia.

Dyslexia-linked would be great, but anything - we're spitballing re-enrolling him for chess classes, poker and other complex card games, Civilization, critical thinking exercises etc. He is willing to put in some time and effort, and mostly sees his dyslexia as a different type of brain that makes some things difficult and requires alternative paths.
posted by viggorlijah to Science & Nature (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Dual N-Back training is what you're looking for. Last I read about it, there is no top-end to the memory improvements. Plus there are tons of apps for phones.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:19 AM on August 21, 2013

Best answer: Dyslexia is hard to deal with. Kudos to you and your son for being proactive. It's great that he's in weekly dyslexia classes.

Working memory is what allows us to retain and manipulate information - remembering a phone number long enough to write it down, manipulating numbers in our head, and remembering the context of a previous sentence that was read while starting to read the next one. If your son is good at maths it is unlikely he has a global working memory impairment.

This is a good thing! Why? Firstly, whatever deficit this is is probably due to dyslexia and not a dyslexia + working memory deficit. Secondly, it has not been conclusively demonstrated that working memory training is effective at improving working memory (PDF. I recommend reading the abstract). A lot of the experiments have been poorly done; much of it is done with tasks that don't reliably assess working memory, or are task-specific and doesn't show good transfer to other tasks. It's just a hard thing to study in a properly scientific, theoretically-grounded manner. All those tasks that I listed above as involving working memory also involve things like attention and strategies. By all means, if your son wants to play chess, get him playing chess! But I don't recommend getting your hopes up that playing chess will result in ground-breaking improvements in other aspects of his life.

I'm a cognitive science researcher in a PhD program. I know a little about dyslexia and speech and a lot about working memory and critically designing/evaluating psychology experiments, and I can vouch for the scholarly integrity and expertise of the authors of the linked paper. And having read the entirety of the paper I agree with its most salient conclusions.

I don't mean to be discouraging. Dyslexia is a hard thing to live with and it must be very frustrating. But try not to believe the hype about working memory training. I'd hate for you to put a lot of energy into something that is not proven to work and would leave you both frustrated and discouraged. Instead, I recommend having your son professionally evaluated to narrow down the kinds of tasks he does and doesn't have difficulty with. They may be related to dyslexia, they may not.

Also, has he tried using this dyslexia font?
posted by nicodine at 12:57 PM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: It was good to have the woo-sense confirmed that this isn't at the point of being understood or altered well yet, thanks nicodine! He is watching anime with subtitles and we're working instead to rewrite his school texts in short bullet points with graphics on his Kindle (so the font is adjustable and can be read aloud) for revision, instead of going over a large text. I'm also looking for film and audio versions of whatever he needs to learn, and letting go as much as possible of the need for him to read fluently from a written text.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:13 AM on September 21, 2013

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