Preterm Babies at High Risk for Learning Problems

Two-thirds of those born extremely premature need extra support, particularly for math

MONDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- Babies born at 25 weeks' gestation or less are at high risk for learning difficulties in childhood, and the majority require some form of special educational support, according to a study published online March 12 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition.

Samantha Johnson, Ph.D., of University College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a study of 219 extremely preterm babies who were born in 1995 and followed-up at age 11 years to compare their academic ability with 153 of their term-born classmates.

Of the extremely preterm children, 29 (13 percent) were in special schools, and of those in mainstream schools 105 (57 percent) were classified as having special educational needs, the researchers report. Half of them were rated by teachers as below average in attainment, versus 5 percent of their term-born classmates. Compared with their classmates born at full-term, extremely preterm children had cognitive ability scores 20 points lower, scored 18 points lower for reading and 27 points lower for math, the investigators found.

"The impact of these impairments is likely to increase over time and existing difficulties may be exacerbated in secondary school when cognitive demands increase in parallel with progressively complex academic studies," the authors write. "The cost to society of extreme prematurity lies increasingly within the sphere of education as these children grow older and approach the transition to secondary school."

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