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Difference between Working Memory and Perceptual Reasoning on the WISC IV

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: WISC-IV results for my 7 1/2 yr. old daughter -Verbal Comprehension: 99 -Perceptual Reasoning: 127 -Working Memory: 80 -Processing Speed:121 -Full Scale IQ:109 *should be interpreted with caution because of wide variance in scores (noted by psychologist)

In the evaluation report, the psychologist noted that working memory is an essential component of fluid reasoning and other higher order cognitive processes. The 47 point difference between my daughter's working memory and perceptual reasoning makes no sense to me. Can you explain? I have been wondering if my daughter is dyslexic, but the psychologist suggested that she has anxiety. Possibly a combo? Thank you for your insights.

A: Working memory is like a mental workspace with only a limited capacity. This part of our memory keeps information active only for a short period of time. And when it is active, it helps us manipulate information mentally and thus guide our behaviour. To measure working memory, there are various tests. Examples on testing is e.g., how many numbers can one repeat after hearing them once; at times person can repeat back after hearing them in a different order (this is verbal working memory), or recalling placements an object holds after seeing them once (visual working memory), etc.

Deficits in working memory is often association with inattention e.g. problems focusing on reading a text; or memory type problems, (for e.g., forgetting what to do in the few seconds); or easily distracted while trying to focus on any task. This affects mental and reading comprehension which affects results on tests, which is probably the case with your child.

The deficit seen based on the result is not a true deficit, rather a relative deficit where a very large gap between the child's perceptual (or verbal) reasoning abilities and working memory. Further analyses and testing has to be done here but I believe that your daughter may have a an overlapping disability. Both ADHD and a learning disability are possible; hence, there is a possibility of dyslexia. Anxiety alone does not explain such scores. In fact her perceptual reasoning (PR) is very high, at a range higher than the cut off score for gifted children which is at about 121. Her PS is also above average with a relatively low VC.

I would suggest that you see a professional to get her tested for ADHD and learning disabilities. The good news is that there are treatments and practices that can help improve both her working memory and verbal comprehension. Do get her tested as soon as possible so that you can work as early intervention would be most helpful. Best wishes.


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