Objective: To investigate the role of executive function (EF) skills, measured by parent-rating and performance-based instruments, as mediators of the effects of gestational age (GA) on functional outcomes and behavior symptoms in preterm (PT) and full-term (FT) preschoolers.
Patients and methods: Children born PT (n = 70; mean GA, 29.6 weeks; mean birth weight, 1365 g) were compared to children born FT (n = 79) on composite measures of EF (using the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function and a performance-based EF battery), adaptive function, prereading skills, and behavior symptoms. For the entire sample, mediation analyses examined the effect of GA on the outcomes with EF as mediator.
Results: Compared to children born FT, children born PT had significantly higher parent-rated EF scores and lower performance-based EF scores, both indicating more problems; furthermore, children born PT had lower adaptive function and prereading scores and more problematic behavior. GA contributed to adaptive function, prereading skills, and behavior symptoms for all children. EF acted as a mediator of GA for all 3 outcomes; different patterns emerged for parent-rated and performance-based EF evaluations. For adaptive function, both EF measures significantly mediated the effects of GA; for prereading skills, only performance-based EF was significant; for behavior symptoms, only parent-rated EF was significant.
Conclusions: We propose standard assessment of EF, using both parent-rating and performance-based EF measures, in young PT children and other children at the risk of EF impairments. EF skills are measurable, mediate important functional outcomes, and may serve as intervention targets.