Working memory development in children with mild to borderline intellectual disabilities

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The purpose of the current cross-sectional study was to examine the developmental progression in working memory (WM) between the ages of 9 and 16 years in a large sample of children with mild to borderline intellectual disabilities (MBID). Baddeley's influential WM model was used as a theoretical framework. Furthermore, the relations between WM on the one hand, and scholastic skills (arithmetic and reading) on the other were examined.


One hundred and ninety-seven children with MBID between 9 and 16 years old participated in this study. All children completed several tests measuring short-term memory, WM, inhibition, arithmetic and single word reading.


WM, visuospatial short-term memory and inhibition continued to develop until around age 15 years. However verbal short-term memory showed no further developmental increases after the age of 10 years. Verbal short-term memory was associated with single word reading, whereas inhibition was associated with arithmetic.


The finding that verbal short-term memory ceases to develop beyond the age of 10 years in children with MBID contrasts with results of studies involving typically developing children, where verbal short-term memory develops until around age 15 years. This relative early developmental plateau might explain why verbal short-term memory is consistently considered weak in children with MBID.

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