University of Leicester
Simms et al_Aetiology of maths difficulties_Ped Res In press Nov 2014.pdf (1.11 MB)

Nature and origins of mathematics difficulties in very preterm children: A different etiology than Developmental Dyscalculia

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journal contribution
posted on 2015-02-11, 14:32 authored by Victoria Simms, Camilla Gilmore, Lucy Cragg, Sarah Clayton, Neil Marlow, Samantha Johnson
Background. Children born very preterm (<32 weeks) are at high risk for mathematics learning difficulties that are out of proportion to other academic and cognitive deficits. However, the aetiology of mathematics difficulties in very preterm children is unknown. We sought to identify the nature and origins of preterm children’s mathematics difficulties. Methods. 115 very preterm children aged 8-10 years 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 standardised tests. Numerical representations and specific mathematics skills were assessed using experimental tests. Results. Very preterm children had significantly poorer mathematics achievement, working memory and visuo-spatial 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. Conclusions. Mathematics difficulties in very preterm children are associated with deficits in working memory and visuo-spatial 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, are needed to improve very preterm children’s achievement.


This study was funded by a project grant from Action Medical Research (AMR), UK, grant number: SP4575, for the PRemature Infants’ Skills in Mathematics (PRISM) Study. N.M. receives a proportion of funding from the UK Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centres funding scheme at University College London Hospital/ University College London. C.G. is supported by a UK Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship



Pediatric Research (2015) 77, 389–395

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AND PSYCHOLOGY/School of Medicine/Department of Health Sciences


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Pediatric Research (2015) 77


Nature Publishing Group for Amercian Pediatric Society, European Society for Paediatric Research, International Pediatric Research Foundation, Society for Pediatric Research (SPR), European Paediatric Research Society (ESPR)





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