Aim: To assess academic achievement, rates of learning disabilities (LD) and special education in extremely low birth weight (ELBW <1 kg) adolescents relative to normal birth weight (NBW) controls and to identify cognitive weaknesses.
Methods: Compared 181 ELBW adolescents born from 1992 to 1995 (mean age 14.8 years, mean BW 809 g, mean GA 26.4 weeks) and 115 NBW term controls. Measures included tests of IQ, reading and math achievement and executive function. Analyses included ANCOVA and logistic and linear regression. Covariates were sex, race and socioeconomic status.
Results: Extremely low birth weight adolescents had significantly lower scores on tests of IQ (87.1 vs. 96.4), achievement (88.6 vs. 95.5 reading; 81.3 vs. 93.2 math) and executive function than the NBW group (all p-values <0.001). ELBW also had higher rates of math LD, 51(50%) vs. 26 (28%), OR (95% CI) = 3.10 (1.65, 5.84), p < 0.001, and need for special education, 88 (49%) vs. 11(10%), OR (95% CI) = 11.78 (5.67, 24.47), p < 0.001. Measures of executive function were related to math independent of IQ.
Conclusions: Extremely low birth weight adolescents born in the 1990s have poorer achievement and higher rates of math LD than NBW peers. The findings suggest a need for more intensive interventions addressing the specific cognitive vulnerabilities in this population.