The Role of Working Memory in Reading Disability
Susan Amanda Brady The University of Rhode Island, and Haskins Laboratories
Other presentations have focused on the importance of phonological awareness in reading acquisition and on the central role Isabelle Liberman has played in theoretical and empirical advances in this area. It was noted that she led the way in recognizing the cognitive demands of reading: that reading, in contrast to speaking and listening, requires explicit awareness of phonological segments, and that this awareness is difficult to achieve given the embedded nature of phonemes in syllables. In this chapter I will show that Dr. Liberman also led the way in investigating how metaphonological abilities relate to underlying phonological processes. She was among the first to identify the need to understand the organization and functioning of the language system in order to explain sources of difficulty for poor readers. Together with Donald Shankweiler and several students, Isabelle Liberman conducted insightful and elegant research on the working memory deficits of poor readers, discovering that phonological processes are implicated here, as well as in the deficits in phonological awareness.
In my presentation I would like to accomplish three things: First, I will take note of the large body of evidence that deficits in a specifically verbal form of working memory are associated with reading problems, and will point out Dr. Liberman's enormous contribution to our understanding of the source of these limitations in language processing. Second, I will consider evidence (both old and new) that the efficiency of phonological processes is an important limiting factor in working memory capacity, and that poor readers often have inefficient phonological processes. Third, I will discuss current evidence pertaining to possible causal links between the phonological processes