Premature babies 'at higher risk of learning difficulties'

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Babies born between five to eight weeks premature have a "very significant risk" of suffering from learning difficulties, a study published today suggests.

Babies born between five to eight weeks premature have a "very significant risk" of suffering from learning difficulties, a study published today suggests.

Up to one-third of babies born moderately premature need help from a classroom assistant at primary school, are identified as having special needs or have to attend a special school, the research shows.

The report by doctors, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, says "children of school age who were born at 32 to 35 weeks gestation have a very significant risk of educational difficulties".

The parents, teachers and GPs of 176 babies born at 32 to 35 weeks in Oxfordshire in 1990 were asked to take part in the research, which was done when the children were aged seven years.

Teachers submitted reports on 117 children, of whom 29 needed support from a non-teaching assistant, five had required a statement of special needs and 3 were at a special school. Poor progress in writing was reported for 32 per cent of the children, 31 per cent had poor motor skills, 29 per cent were behind in mathematics, 19 per cent in speaking, 21 per cent in reading and 12 per cent in gym. Nearly one in five children was said to be hyperactive, double the normal rate.

Dr Charlotte Huddy, a neonatologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said the research had implications for education authorities. "It does seem that one-third of the children are having some form of difficulties in specific areas. The message is that most of these pre-term babies do well, but some need a little bit of extra help. It is something we should be aware of."

The authors of the study say that "even a modest increase in the risk of pre-school or school difficulties will have considerable resource implications, as well as being important for parents and children themselves".

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