Mathematics difficulties in extremely preterm children: evidence of a specific deficit in basic mathematics processing

Background. Extremely preterm (EP, <26 weeks gestation) children have been observed to have poor academic achievement in comparison to their term-born peers, especially in mathematics. This study investigated potential underlying causes of this difficulty. Methods. 219 extremely preterm participants were compared with 153 term-born control children at 11 years old. All children were assessed by a psychologist on a battery of standardised cognitive tests and a number estimation test assessing children’s numerical representations. Results. EP children underperformed in all tests in comparison to the term controls (the majority of p’s<.001). Different underlying relationships between performance on the number estimation test and mathematical achievement were found in extremely preterm compared to control children. That is, even after controlling for cognitive ability, a relationship between number representations and mathematical performance persisted for EP children only (EP: r= .346, n= 186, p< .001; Control: r= .095, n=146, p= .256). Conclusion. Interventions for EP children may target improving children’s numerical representations in order to subsequently remediate their mathematical skills.