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Extremely premature (⩽ 800 g) schoolchildren: multiple areas of hidden disability
  1. Michael F Whitfield,
  2. Ruth V Eckstein Grunau,
  3. Liisa Holsti
  1. Department of Paediatrics, University of British Columbia and Newborn Care, British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital
  1. Dr Michael F Whitfield, Neonatal Follow-up Programme, BC’s Children’s Hospital, 4480 Oak Street Vancouver, BC V6H 3V4 Canada.
    Email: mwhitfield{at}


AIM To examine the functional abilities of extremely low birthweight (ELBW, ⩽ 800 g) children at school age compared with full term children.

METHODS ELBW children (n=115) in a geographically defined regional cohort born between 1974 and mid-1985 (comprising 96% of 120 survivors of 400 ELBW infants admitted to the Provincial Tertiary neonatal intensive care unit), were compared with (n = 50) children of comparable age and sociodemographic status. Each child was categorised by the pattern and degree of disability, using a system derived from theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM IV). Psycho-educational, behavioural, and motor results for ELBW children free of severe/multiple neurosensory disabilities (n=90; 91% return rate) were compared with the term children.

RESULTS Severe/multiple neurosensory disabilities were present in 16 ELBW children (14%), and 15 (13%) had borderline intelligence. ELBW children of global IQ ⩾ 85 scored significantly lower in standardised tests of fine and gross motor control, visuo–motor pencil output, visual memory, and academic achievement (reading, arithmetic, written language). ELBW survivors were three times more likely to have learning disorders (47%vs 18%) and 22 (41%) of the 54 ELBW children with learning disorders had multiple areas of learning difficulty. Of the ELBW group, 30 (26%) were not disabled compared with 41 (82%) of the term group. Only five (12%) of the ELBW boys were not disabled, compared with 25 (35%) of the ELBW girls. Finally, ELBW children had significantly worse scores on ratings of behaviour during testing by the psychologist and behaviour by parental report.

CONCLUSION The most likely outcome for ELBW survivors at school age is a learning disorder, often multiple, or borderline intellectual functioning, combined with behavioural and motor risk factors rather than severe/multiple disability. Mean scores on psycho-educational testing showed poorer performance of the ELBW children, but grossly understated the complex nature of the individual degree of educational difficulty faced by these children.

  • extremely low birthweight
  • psychology
  • disability
  • motor skills
  • learning disorder

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