Specific Learning Disabilities as
a Working Memory Deficit

A Model Revisited 1

Authored by: H. Lee Swanson

Handbook of Educational Psychology and Students with Special Needs

Print publication date:  February  2020
Online publication date:  February  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138295421
eBook ISBN: 9781315100654
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter reviews and expands a model of specific learning disabilities that focuses on such children’s working memory deficits (Swanson & Siegel, 2001a, 2001b). The model suggests that working memory (WM) deficits are fundamental problems of children with average intelligence but with reading disabilities (RD) and/or math disabilities (MD). Depending on the task, these deficits manifest themselves as a domain-specific storage constraint (i.e., the inefficient accessing and availability of phonological representations, e.g., numbers, phonemes) and/or a domain-general monitoring constraint (limitations in controlled attentional processing, i.e., updating, inhibition). The model has been expanded by recent studies suggesting that growth in the executive component of WM is significantly related to growth in reading and/or math. Although constraints in WM can be modified through dynamic testing and instruction (especially when embedded within academic materials), WM constraints in performance in children with RD and/or MD remain when compared with their average achieving counterparts.

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