Background: Previous studies have demonstrated an association between preterm delivery and increased risk of special educational need (SEN). The aim of our study was to examine the risk of SEN across the full range of gestation.
Methods and findings: We conducted a population-based, retrospective study by linking school census data on the 407,503 eligible school-aged children resident in 19 Scottish Local Authority areas (total population 3.8 million) to their routine birth data. SEN was recorded in 17,784 (4.9%) children; 1,565 (8.4%) of those born preterm and 16,219 (4.7%) of those born at term. The risk of SEN increased across the whole range of gestation from 40 to 24 wk: 37-39 wk adjusted odds ratio (OR) 1.16, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.12-1.20; 33-36 wk adjusted OR 1.53, 95% CI 1.43-1.63; 28-32 wk adjusted OR 2.66, 95% CI 2.38-2.97; 24-27 wk adjusted OR 6.92, 95% CI 5.58-8.58. There was no interaction between elective versus spontaneous delivery. Overall, gestation at delivery accounted for 10% of the adjusted population attributable fraction of SEN. Because of their high frequency, early term deliveries (37-39 wk) accounted for 5.5% of cases of SEN compared with preterm deliveries (<37 wk), which accounted for only 3.6% of cases.
Conclusions: Gestation at delivery had a strong, dose-dependent relationship with SEN that was apparent across the whole range of gestation. Because early term delivery is more common than preterm delivery, the former accounts for a higher percentage of SEN cases. Our findings have important implications for clinical practice in relation to the timing of elective delivery.