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Preterm Birth: Neuropsychological Profiles and Atypical Developmental Pathways


Correspondence to: Alessandra Sansavini, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat 5, 40127 Bologna, Italy. E-mail:


Preterm birth is characterized by multiple interacting atypical constraints affecting different aspects of neuropsychological development. In the first years of life, perceptual, motor, and communicative-linguistic abilities, as well as attention, processing speed, and memory are affected by preterm birth resulting in cascading effects on later development. From school age to adolescence, a catch-up of simpler competencies (i.e., receptive lexicon) along with a more selective effect on more complex competencies (i.e., complex linguistic functions, math, motor, and executive functions) are observed, as well as a relevant incidence of behavioral outcomes. A wide heterogeneity in preterm children's neuropsychological profiles is described depending on the interaction among the degree of neonatal immaturity, medical complications, neurological damages/alterations, environmental and social factors. Severe neuromotor and sensory damages are not frequent, while low severity impairments are common among preterm children. It is argued that developmental pathways of preterm children are atypical, and not merely delayed, and are characterized by different developmental patterns and relationships among competencies. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Disabil Res Rev 2011;17:102–113.