Background and Aims As revealed by several studies, a very preterm birth may affect language, executive functions, verbal short term memory and literacy. The aim of this study was to investigate these competencies in very preterms compared to full terms, thus describing how language, executive functions and verbal short-term memory observed at the end of preschool age affect literacy at school age.
Methods Forty-two monolingual Italian very preterms (mean gestational age 29.7 weeks), with no history of major cerebral damage, were followed longitudinally at 6 years by investigating language (vocabulary, grammar, and phonological awareness), executive functions (syllabic and phonemic fluency) and verbal short-term memory (vowel span, non-word repetition) and again at 8 years on literacy (word and non-word reading and spelling). Two cross-sectional groups of full term children were recruited as control groups (34 and 26 children at 6 and 8 years respectively).
Results Preterms showed lower abilities in language at 6 years and in literacy at 8 years, while no differences between groups regarding syllabic and phonemic fluency and short-term memory were found. Linear regression analyses revealed that in the preterm sample both language and verbal short-term memory had a predictive role on literacy with some differences in function of word versus non-word reading and writing.
Conclusions These findings revealed the importance to analyse both language and short-term memory in preterms at the end of preschool age, with relevant implications for interventions to improve literacy at school age.
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