The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, was designed to explore the link between preterm birth and dyscalculia — a learning disorder which involves problems in everyday math skills. It is diagnosed when children do worse than expected in math, based on their overall intelligence levels.
“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,” said study co-author Professor Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick.
The study looked at 922 children between the ages of seven and nine, and found no direct correlation between preterm births in general and dyscalculia. However, they did find that being small-for-gestational-age is an indicator of whether a child is likely to have dyscalculia.
Children who are born very preterm, before 32 weeks, of gestational age have a 39.4 percent chance of having general mathematic impairment compared to 14.9 percent of those born at term (39 to 41 weeks), which translates into a significantly increased odds ratio of 3.22.
On the other hand, very preterm children’s risk of developing dyscalculia was with an odds ratio of 1.62 (22.6 percent) compared with controls (13.7 percent), not significantly increased.
“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,” said Wolke.
The researchers note that with the right support by teachers and parents, children can learn ways to improve their math 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.
“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,” said co-author Dr. Julia Jaekel of Ruhr-University Bochum.
Source: University of Warwick