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Small Preemies More Likely to Have Math Disabilities

Update Date: Mar 21, 2014 06:08 PM EDT

Preemies may have more trouble with math, according to a new study.

New research examining the link between preterm birth and dyscalculia shows that preterm children are significantly more likely to have general cognitive and mathematic problems.

Researchers said that dyscalculia is a learning disorder characterized by frequent problems with everyday arithmetic tasks. Researchers said this learning disorder is diagnosed when children perform worse in mathematics than expected in terms of their general intelligence.

"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," co-author Professor Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick said in a news release.

The latest study involved 922 children between the ages of seven and nine.

While researchers found no direct correlation between preterm births and dyscalculia, they found that being small-for-gestational-age is a predictor of whether a child is likely to have dyscalculia.

The findings revealed that children born very preterm (before 32 weeks) are 39.4 percent more likely to have general mathematic impairment compared to 14.9 percent of babies born at term (39 to 41 weeks).

After accounting for child sex, socioeconomic background and small-for-gestational-age birth, researchers found that the odds ratio of dyscalculia in preemies is 3.22.

However, very preterm children had an odds ratio of 1.62 (22.6 percent) of being diagnosed with dyscalculia compared to normal term babies.

"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," Professor Wolke said in a statement.

"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," Wolke explained.

The findings are published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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