Attention problems in a representative sample of extremely preterm/extremely low birth weight children

Dev Neuropsychol. 2011;36(1):57-73. doi: 10.1080/87565641.2011.540538.


The aim of this study was to examine attention in a large, representative, contemporary cohort of children born extremely preterm (EP) and/or extremely low birth weight (ELBW). Participants included 189 of 201 surviving children born EP (<28 weeks' gestation) or ELBW (<1,000 g) in 1997 in the state of Victoria, Australia. A comparison group of 173 of 199 children born full term and normal birth weight (FT/NBW) were randomly selected matching for birth hospital, expected due date, gender, mother's country of birth, and health insurance status. Participants were assessed at 8 years of age on subtests from the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch) and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-4th Edition (WISC-IV). Measures of selective attention, sustained attention, attention encoding, and executive attention (inhibition, shifting attention, and divided attention) were administered. To assess behavioral elements of inattention, the primary caregiver completed the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) and the Conners' ADHD/DSM-IV Scale (CADS-P). The EP/ELBW group performed more poorly across all cognitive and behavioral measures than the FT/NBW group, with the exception of inhibition. The EP/ELBW group also had significantly elevated rates of impairment in selective, sustained, shifting and divided attention, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. No significant gender or gradient effects (e.g., <26 weeks' gestation vs. ≥ 26 weeks' gestation) were identified. Neonatal medical factors were not strong predictors of attention, although necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and cystic periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) were independent predictors of selective attention. In conclusion, our comprehensive assessment of attention provides strong evidence that children born EP/ELBW are at increased risk for attentional impairments, and as such, this population should be monitored closely during early and middle childhood with a focus on attention functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Birth Weight / physiology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Developmental Disabilities / diagnosis
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Risk Factors