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Processing speed and working memory underlie academic attainment in very preterm children


Aim To study the impact of specific neuropsychological measures on academic attainment in very preterm (VPT) children.

Methods VPT children (gestational age <31 weeks, N=48) and matched term controls (N=17) aged 9–10 years were assessed with measures of processing speed, executive function and IQ. Teachers reported on academic achievement in a questionnaire.

Results Group differences in academic attainment were significant for maths (OR 6.5; 95% CI 1.7 to 25.8), English/literacy (OR 3.8; 95% CI 1.1 to 13.5), overall academic attainment (OR 11.9; 95% CI 1.4 to 96.9) and special educational needs provision (OR 7.2; 95% CI 1.5 to 35.0). All significant group differences in attainment could be accounted for by processing speed. Birth group, processing speed and working memory were significant predictors of overall attainment (R2=0.57; p<0.001).

Conclusions Processing speed and working memory are important factors underlying academic attainment in VPT children. Specific tests of processing speed and working memory, which together take approximately only 10 min to administer, could potentially be used as efficient screening instruments to assess which children are at risk of educational problems and should be referred for a full neuropsychological assessment.

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