Poor attention rather than hyperactivity/impulsivity predicts academic achievement in very preterm and full-term adolescents

Psychol Med. 2013 Jan;43(1):183-96. doi: 10.1017/S0033291712001031. Epub 2012 May 21.


Background: Very preterm (VP) children are at particular risk for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) of the inattentive subtype. It is unknown whether the neurodevelopmental pathways to academic underachievement are the same as in the general population. This study investigated whether middle childhood attention or hyperactivity/impulsivity problems are better predictors of VP adolescents' academic achievement.

Method: In a geographically defined prospective whole-population sample of VP (<32 weeks gestation) and/or very low birth weight (<1500 g birth weight) (VLBW/VP; n = 281) and full-term control children (n = 286) in South Germany, ADHD subtypes were assessed at 6 years 3 months and 8 years 5 months using multiple data sources. Academic achievement was assessed at 13 years of age.

Results: Compared with full-term controls, VLBW/VP children were at higher risk for ADHD inattentive subtype [6 years 3 months: odds ratio (OR) 2.8, p < 0.001; 8 years 5 months: OR 1.7, p = 0.020] but not for ADHD hyperactive-impulsive subtype (6 years 3 months: OR 1.4, p = 0.396; 8 years 5 months: OR 0.9, p = 0.820). Childhood attention measures predicted academic achievement in VLBW/VP and also full-term adolescents, whereas hyperactive/impulsive behaviour did not.

Conclusions: Attention is an important prerequisite for learning and predicts long-term academic underachievement. As ADHD inattentive subtype and cognitive impairments are frequent in VLBW/VP children, their study may help to identify the neurofunctional pathways from early brain development and dysfunction to attention problems and academic underachievement.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / classification
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Hyperkinesis / etiology
  • Hyperkinesis / physiopathology
  • Impulsive Behavior / etiology
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies