Even healthy premature babies may be at high risk for lower academic achievement, especially in math, researchers say.
Premature 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, researchers said.
"Even healthy premature babies are at high risk for lower academic achievement, especially in math," said researcher Natacha Akshoomoff.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have received a five-year, grant for a longitudinal study designed to track the developmental trajectory in cognitive, academic and brain measures as very premature children transition from preschool to grade school.
Results will provide the foundation for designing appropriate learning interventions, researchers said.
The scientists predict that specific early perceptual and cognitive deficits will be related to math deficits that emerge as children start school.
They hope their results will greatly enhance understanding of why certain skills appear more vulnerable to premature birth, how this relates to early math deficiency, and how changes seen in the brain account for neurodevelopment outcomes in healthy preterm children.
"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.
"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," said Akshoomoff.
Akshoomoff and a multidisciplinary team of investigators will utilise MRI imaging techniques to study links between affected brain areas and pathways and levels of performance on a set of neurocognitive and math functions.
Participants will include 60 healthy children born at 25 to 32 gestational weeks with average intelligence, and 40 full-term children matched for age, sex and verbal IQ.