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‘Definition of working memory profiles in children with auditory/communicative disorders’ is a prospective research project, carried out in a multi-center context. The project assesses working memory components in order to define profiles that capture the strengths and weaknesses of underlying working memory mechanisms in language learning of children with hearing impairments or developmental language disorders. Performance on working memory tasks will reveal disharmonic outcomes from which several distinct profiles could be inferred. The evidence-based profiles are used to derive guidelines for remediation that can be deployed by speech and language/psychological therapists to provide relevant intervention targets. The innovative contribution of the proposed project is that language learning prerequisites in distinct science domains are being assessed and interpreted in a coherent, overarching manner.

 

Based on literature and clinical availability of psychological, audiological and linguistic standardized test instruments, a preliminary diagnostic task-set for the identification of working memory components is proposed. The research will entail assessment of verbal working memory, visual sequential memory, auditory speech perception (in quiet and in adverse conditions) and language ability. The key range of verbal working memory components that underpin language leaning, encoding, recoding, storage, processing and retrieval are included. Furthermore, child and environmental characteristics will be collected from files at the audiological centers. The study group comprises 140 children, with diagnosed auditory/communicative disorders, aged 7 - 10 years, with typical cognitive abilities. Total test administration time is maximum 65 minutes. Data handling complies with the principles of FAIR data management.

 

Outcomes on auditory, language and working memory (sub)tests will be described for the total group and the subgroups of children with hearing impairments and developmental language disorders. Linear regression analyses will be conducted to identify predictive factors for working memory functioning. Furthermore, factor- and cluster analyses will be carried out. Based on the statistical analyses, working memory profiles will be defined for these children with communicative difficulties due to hearing impairments or developmental language disorders. Performance on working memory tasks will reveal disharmonic outcomes, from which several distinct profiles could be inferred. Based on the profiles the strengths and weaknesses of underlying working memory mechanisms for language learning will be captured in remediation guidelines. This implies that specific components of existing methods for children with hearing impairment or developmental language disorder will be selected for each profile and novel directions for training will be presented. The requirements for clinical application of the diagnostic task-set and the profiles of working memory will be achieved by the development of a manual for the task-set and profile characteristics along with the reference data.

 

To maximize practical value and transfer, the commitment of stakeholders is obtained for each phase of the project. Client organizations and young adults with auditory/communicative disorders and their parents are invited to share their experiences, beliefs and ideas in group meetings. In the project a substantial part of the effort is directed to implementation of the outcomes of the project. That is, transfer of the knowledge and resources into the clinical practice of professionals (in care and education) working with children with auditory/communicative disorders. Representatives of these organizations are also involved in each project phase in order to enhance practical applicability of the outcomes.

 

The deliverables of the project (knowledge and resources), communication and transfer to professionals, students and client- organizations are summarized below. The de main deliverables include:

- A diagnostic task-set for working memory components

- Profile manual and remediation guidelines for specific working memory components

- Teacher training-modules & courses (speech therapist/psychologist/audiologist)

 

The project combines and expands the scientific and clinical knowledge by the selection and application of a diagnostic task-set for identification of clusters of working memory components, beyond the diagnoses of hearing impairment or developmental language disorder. This will yield important insights in the role of working memory in these children by the identification of profiles that reflect specific relations between memory components such as, storage, verbal processing and retrieval. Individual performances on working memory tasks can be better interpreted by these profiles and be deployed by speech and language/psychological therapists to derive evidence based language learning intervention targets.

 

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