Aim: Early working memory is emerging as an important indicator of developmental outcome predicting later cognitive, behavioural and academic competencies. The current study compared early working memory in a sample of toddlers (18–22 months) born very low birth weight (VLBW; n = 40) and full term (n = 51) and the relationship between early working memory, mental developmental index (MDI), and maternal communication in both samples.
Methods: Early working memory, measured by object permanence; Bayley mental developmental index; and maternal communication, coded during mother-toddler play interaction, were examined in 39 toddlers born VLBW and 41 toddlers born full term.
Results: Toddlers born VLBW were found to be 6.4 times less likely to demonstrate attainment of object permanence than were toddlers born full term, adjusting for age at testing. MDI and maternal communication were found to be positively associated with attainment of object permanence in the VLBW group only.
Conclusion: The difference found in the early working memory performance of toddlers born VLBW, compared with those born full term, emphasizes the importance of assessing early working memory in at-risk populations, while the maternal communication finding highlights potential targets of intervention for improving working memory in toddlers born VLBW.