Premature babies face learning difficulties

New research has found a link between children who are born extremely prematurely and learning difficulties by the time they reach the age of eleven.

The University of Warwick conducted the study in collaboration with University College London and the University of Nottingham. The researchers found that almost 66 per cent of children born extremely prematurely require substantially more support then their counterparts at school.

The period of time considered ‘extremely premature’ refers to children born below 26 weeks of gestation.

Out of 307 children born in 1995, 219 were assessed at the age of eleven, and compared to a control group of 153 classmates who were born at the end of a normal nine-month pregnancy.

Differences were found in reading and maths scores, with the premature children scoring significantly lower then their classmates.

Boys were found to be at a higher risk of having excessively complex impairments than girls.

Professor Dieter Wolke, from the University of Warwick’s Medical School, said, “We found up to 44 per cent of children had a serious impairment in core subjects such as reading and maths, and 50 per cent had performance below the average range expected for their age.

“Extremely pre-term children have a 13-fold increased risk of special educational needs requiring additional learning support and were 77 times more likely to have an educational statement at eleven years of age.”

The study published on 12 April, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood Fetal Neonatal Edition, is the third report from the EPICure study group who have published two previous papers examining the children at aged two years and half and six years old.

Over the course of the longitudinal study, researchers have found that just under 50 per cent of the premature children have serious disabilities, such as learning difficulties, impaired vision/hearing and cerebral palsy.

Methods used in the studies, included standardised tests of cognitive ability and academic attainment, as well as teacher reports of behaviour and special educational needs.


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