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Very premature children four times more likely to have behavioural disorders

A team led by the University’s Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School examined the behaviour of 200 six-year-old children who had been born below 26 weeks gestation, known as ‘extremely pre-term’.

The researchers attempted to contact the family of every child born in the UK and Ireland at 25 weeks or earlier, between March and December 1995. From a possible 308 children who survived the first 6 years, the parents of 241 responded to the study.

The team compared the behaviour of these extremely pre-term children with a control group of a similar age. They used reports filed by parents and teachers to test whether extremely pre-term children had more pervasive behaviour problems (described by both teachers and parents).

The researchers found 30.6% of pre-term children were hyperactive, compared to 8.8% in the full-term group, and 33.3% of pre-term children displayed attention problems, compared to 6.8%.

They highlighted a distinction between genders in the pre-term group. Boys born prematurely showed a higher degree of behaviour problems, such as ADHD, and girls experienced more internalising disorders such as anxiety and depression.

The study also showed that extremely pre-term boys were more vulnerable to behavioural problems, and they had a greater impact on parents and teachers than extremely pre-term girls.

Professor of Developmental Psychology at Warwick Medical School, Dr Dieter Wolke said: "In this cohort of pre-term children we found a considerable excess of behaviour difficulties, including problems in a range of domains such as emotion, hyperactivity, attention and peer relationship problems. Parents and teachers agreed these behaviour problems had a considerable impact on home and school life for 23% of the pre-term group."

Notes to editors:

The full research team included Professor Dieter Wolke from Warwick Medical School and the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick. Postgraduate research fellow Muthanna Samara from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, and Neil Marlow from the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham.  

For more information or to speak to Professor Wolke contact:

Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Communications Officer, University of Warwick,
k.e.parkes@warwick.ac.uk, 02476 150483, 07824 540863