Research at Western University is breaking new ground on the link between memory problems and learning disabilities in young children.

Lisa Archibald, a researcher at the School of Communication Sciences, has been using basic sentences to explore how the two are connected.

"There'll be a good 10 per cent of the children in the classroom whose memory skills are lower than other children in their class and that might make it more difficult for them to access the curriculum."

While many children have problems specifically related to either dyslexia (reading), spoken language or dyscalculia (math), this study shows that some kids have overlapping difficulties.

And one common denominator was a low score on working memory, Archibald says.

"Working memory is something that we hear a fair bit about these days. It's talking about what you're holding in mind at the present time and the thinking that you're doing with that material. And if you had a working memory difficulty you tended to have lower learning across the domains of language, reading anc math."

A 10-minute screening test involved such skills as reading lists of real and made-up words in 45 seconds.

"Then finally there was an addition and subtraction test where the child would work for three minutes on some basic math facts," Archibald explains.

The study samples were taken from a large group of children aged four to 10 from the London area.

This different approach to screening could also help identify learning difficulties earlier.

"The kinds of things that children with more particular memory problems are going to have, is missing out on instructions, only completing half of an instruction or missing the middle part of instructions."

Another benefit to this approach to testing is that it's straightforward and low cost.