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Children born prematurely perform equally as well at school as their peers, study finds

Article By: Melissa McAlees

Premature babies perform just as well at school as children who were carried to full term, a new study has found.

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Researchers, who followed more than one million US children, found parents' fears that premature babies would 'struggle' to be 'largely unfounded'.

Even those born at the earliest possible dates were not deemed to be at a significant disadvantage compared with their full-term peers.

Senior author David Figlio, director of the Institute for Policy Research, said: "While some people might be troubled that very premature infants tend to score well below their full-term peers on standardised tests, I believe that the glass is more than half-full.

"Most infants born at 23 to 24 weeks still demonstrate a high degree of cognitive functioning at the start of kindergarten and throughout school."

The study - published in the JAMA Pedriatics journal - analysed babies born in Florida from 1992-2002, with gestational ages of 23-41 weeks.

Researchers matched the babies’ health records with their school records to examine the link between being born early and academic performance.

Two in three babies born as early as 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy were ready for school around the age of five - the same time British children begin reception class. Almost two per cent of these children were noted to be academically 'gifted'.

While premature babies often scored low on standardised tests, those born 25 weeks or later only scored slightly lower than children who had been born at full-term, researchers found.

As the length of pregnancy increased after 28 weeks, the differences in test scores by the time children were aged between 11 and 14 were 'negligible', they concluded.

Previous studies have suggested prematurely-born babies are more likely to fail reading, writing and maths tests at the end of their second year in school, and have an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with Special Education Needs (SEN).

According to researchers, this study did not account for serious medical issues relating to birth, or provide information as to why these children performed well in school – whether they received extra support from family or schools.

"Nevertheless, most babies born prematurely performed well on standardised tests through middle school," said Craig Garfield, an associate professor of paediatrics at the university.

"What’s special about this study is it speaks to the importance of administrative data sets and the ability to combine different data sets in ways that allow us to ask questions and get answers about how our children are doing in the long-run," he added.

"Our future work in this area will focus on what parents and service providers can do to help future premature children to achieve their full potential."


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