- Posted March 24, 2014 by
Lower gestational age linked to math and cognitive problems
In a new study by the University of Warwick and Ruhr-University Bochum , Professor Dieter Wolke, Dipl.Psych, PhD, and co-author from the University of Warwick and Dr. Julia Jaekel, PhD, Clinical Dipl. Psych., Senior Research Fellow and co-author from the Ruhr-University Bochum, examined whether the risk for dyscalculia in preterm children increases the lower the gestational age (GA) and whether small-for-gestational age birth is associated with dyscalculia.
Dyscalculia refers to a wide range of lifelong learning disabilities involving math. Individuals with this type of learning disability may also have poor comprehension of math symbols, may struggle with memorizing and organizing numbers, have difficulty telling time, or have trouble with counting.
For the study 922 children ranging from 23 to 41 weeks gestational age (GA) were studied as part of a prospective geographically defined longitudinal investigation of neonatal at-risk children in South Germany.
At 8 years of age, children's cognitive and mathematic abilities were measured with the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children and with a standardized mathematics test.
The results showed the risk for general cognitive and mathematic impairment increased with lower GA. Children who are born very preterm, before 32 weeks of GA have a 39.4% chance of having general mathematic impairment compared to 14.9% of those born at term (39 to 41 weeks), (OR 3.22).
In contrast, very preterm children's risk of being diagnosed with dyscalculia was with an odds ratio of 1.62 (22.6%) compared with term controls (13.7%) not significantly increased after statistically adjusting for child sex, family socioeconomic status, and small-for-gestational age birth.
In their conclusion the researchers write “The risk of general cognitive and mathematic impairments increases with lower GA but preterm children are not at increased risk of dyscalculia.”
According to Professor Wolke, "What this study has shown is that preterm children are not at an increased risk of having dyscalculia, but their risk may be increased if they were born small for gestational age.”
"Mathematic impairment is not the same as dyscalculia. A child with both low IQ and low mathematic abilities can have general mathematic impairment without suffering from dyscalculia."
Dr. Jaekel points out "In general, preterm and small-for-gestational-age children often have mathematic problems and, even if they are not diagnosed with dyscalculia, they may need special help in school to not be left behind academically.”
Through the right support teachers and parents can help their children understand the problem and learn ways to improve their math’s skills. Just as dyslexia doesn't mean that children won't be able to read and write to a high standard, being diagnosed with dyscalculia may not stop a child from gaining a strong understanding of mathematics.
"Teachers should be aware of these children's problems and need to work on ways of math instruction that help preterm children deal with the high cognitive workload and integration of information required for mathematic tasks in school," says Professor Wolke.
This study is published in in the Journal of Pediatrics.