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Professional Corner

Children Born Preterm
Likely to Be Low Achievers in School

By Chris Gearon (Reuter’s Health)

Children who are born preterm or at low birth weights were nearly three times as likely to be low achievers or special needs children once they reached school age compared with children born at full-term, according to findings reported here on Monday at the 108th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Presented by researchers Jeremie R Barlow and Dr. Lawrence Lewandowski of Syracuse University, the data showed that 61% of preterm children without physically debilitating conditions experienced either low achievement or special needs in school, while 23% of full-term children experienced these problems.

"Although the majority of preterm infants in the general population will not experience severe global dysfunction, the results of the current study suggest that impaired functioning is prevalent among children born preterm," the researchers’ paper concluded. "As hypothesized, academic achievement had been significantly impacted and in many cases had led to grade retention and designation as students with a disability," the researcher continued.

As part of this 10-year longitudinal study, the researchers evaluated 118 infants born at 24 to 31 weeks and 119 full-term infants, born at 38 to 42 weeks. The children, who were measured at birth, 15 months, and at 2, 4, 7, and 10 years of age, were compared using school-related cognitive functioning measures that assess learning disabilities, academic achievement, placement and grade retention. Preterm children not only scored lower on intelligence and achievement tests compared with full-term children, but parents and teachers rated preterm youngsters lower on social and behavioral functioning measures. Furthermore, the preterm children needed more educational support, were held back a grade level and were diagnosed with learning disabilities more often than the other children, the researchers found.

"There was a group of resilient children (among preterm births), some of which were real small babies," Barlow, a psychology doctoral student, told Reuters Health. Twenty-nine of the 118 children born at preterm had positive outcomes. "However, nothing stood out as a predictor" to distinguish preterm children with positive outcomes from those with negative outcomes, she said. The preterm children were also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at rates four- to six-times higher than the national estimates of 3% to 5% in the general population, the authors add.

"The prevalence of school problems with preterm children is staggering," the researchers conclude, "and warrants greater attention from school professional."

 
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Last modified: January 26, 2013