Academic skills in children with cerebral palsy and specific learning disorders

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2024 Jun;66(6):778-792. doi: 10.1111/dmcn.15808. Epub 2023 Nov 21.


Aim: To investigate the prevalence and clinical manifestations of reading, writing, and mathematics disorders in children with cerebral palsy (CP). We explored how the clinical profile of these children differed from those with specific learning disorders (SLDs), taking into account several factors, particularly IQ scores, neuropsychological aspects, and the presence of a visual impairment.

Method: A prospective cross-sectional study was conducted in 42 children with CP (mean age 9 years 8 months; SD = 2 years 2 months) and 60 children with SLDs (mean age 10 years; SD = 1 year 7 months). Clinical characteristics, neuromotor and cognitive profiles, neuropsychological aspects (speech performance, academic skills, visual attention, phonological awareness, working memory), and signs of visual impairment (visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, visual field, oculomotor functions) were assessed. A machine learning approach consisting of a random forest algorithm, where the outcome was the diagnosis and the covariates were the clinical variables collected in the sample, was used for the analyses.

Results: About 59% of the children with CP had reading, writing, or mathematics disorders. Children with CP with learning disorders had a low performance IQ, normal phonological awareness, and working memory difficulties, whereas children with SLDs had normal performance IQ, impaired phonological awareness, and mild working memory difficulties. There were no differences in verbal IQ between the two groups.

Interpretation: Learning disorders are frequently associated with CP, with different clinical characteristics, compared with SLDs. Assessment of academic skills is mandatory in these children, even if the IQ is normal. At school age, specific interventions to promote academic skills in children with CP could be a major rehabilitative goal.

What this paper adds: Reading, writing, and mathematics disorders in cerebral palsy have specific clinical characteristics. Their underlying mechanisms differ from those described in specific learning disorders. Working memory impairment can be considered a hallmark of learning disorders in children with cerebral palsy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance
  • Adolescent
  • Cerebral Palsy* / complications
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Specific Learning Disorder*