Preterm babies are at high risk for lower academic achievement, says researchers

Published on August 16, 2013 at 1:31 AM · No Comments

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have received a five-year, $3 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will fund a longitudinal study designed to track the developmental trajectory in cognitive, academic and brain measures as very preterm children transition from preschool to grade school. Results will provide the foundation for designing appropriate learning interventions.

"Even healthy preterm babies are at high risk for lower academic achievement, especially in math," said Natacha Akshoomoff, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and UC San Diego's Center for Human Development.

Preterm children who are deemed "normal" in terms of their development at infant/toddler stages may still remain at risk for significant math difficulties, as well as deficits in attention, executive functions, and spatial skills.

"Recent studies have identified a common pattern of subtle abnormality in the deep white matter of the brain among children born very premature. These early abnormalities may affect the subsequent development of widely distributed brain areas, and may account for the patterns of cognitive deficit that are observed later in childhood," said Akshoomoff. "However, there is currently very little data actually linking these neural abnormalities with the emergence of such deficits and associated early academic difficulties. The goal of the current study is to provide these essential data as children enter a critical developmental stage when intervention may have the best potential to achieve better outcomes for these children."

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