Objectives: To investigate language abilities in children born very preterm (VPT; <32 weeks' gestational age) or very low birth weight (VLBW; <1500 g) at 7 years of age and compare their performances with children born at term, and to determine whether group differences could be explained by cerebral white matter abnormality on neonatal magnetic resonance imaging.
Study design: A cohort of 198 children born <30 weeks' gestational age and/or <1250 g, and 70 term controls were examined. White matter abnormalities were rated quantitatively on brain magnetic resonance imaging at term-equivalent age. Language was assessed at age 7 years using standardized language tests. Differences between groups were tested in the 5 language subdomains of phonological awareness, semantics, grammar, discourse, and pragmatics. A mediation effect was tested between birth group, white matter abnormality, and language subdomains.
Results: The VPT/VLBW group performed significantly worse than controls on all language subdomains (all P < .001). White matter abnormality mediated the effect of group differences on phonological awareness, and partly mediated this effect for semantics, grammar, and discourse. White matter abnormality was not significantly associated with pragmatics (P = .13).
Conclusions: Language is an important area of concern in children born VPT/VLBW. Neonatal white matter abnormality is an important predictor of outcome; however, different language abilities are differentially associated with neonatal white matter abnormality.
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