Nature and origins of mathematics difficulties in very preterm children: a different etiology than developmental dyscalculia.

BACKGROUND: Children born very preterm (<32 wk) are at high risk for mathematics learning difficulties that are out of proportion to other academic and cognitive deficits. However, the etiology of mathematics difficulties in very preterm children is unknown. We sought to identify the nature and origins of preterm children's mathematics difficulties. METHODS: One hundred and fifteen very preterm children aged 8-10 y were assessed in school with a control group of 77 term-born classmates. Achievement in mathematics, working memory, visuospatial processing, inhibition, and processing speed were assessed using standardized tests. Numerical representations and specific mathematics skills were assessed using experimental tests. RESULTS: Very preterm children had significantly poorer mathematics achievement, working memory, and visuospatial skills than term-born controls. Although preterm children had poorer performance in specific mathematics skills, there was no evidence of imprecise numerical representations. Difficulties in mathematics were associated with deficits in visuospatial processing and working memory. CONCLUSION: Mathematics difficulties in very preterm children are associated with deficits in working memory and visuospatial processing not numerical representations. Thus, very preterm children's mathematics difficulties are different in nature from those of children with developmental dyscalculia. Interventions targeting general cognitive problems, rather than numerical representations, may improve very preterm children's mathematics achievement.