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BMC Pediatr. 2011 Jun 29;11:59. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-11-59.

Attention problems and language development in preterm low-birth-weight children: cross-lagged relations from 18 to 36 months.

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  • 1Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway.



Research has highlighted a series of persistent deficits in cognitive ability in preterm low-birth-weight children. Language and attention problems are among these deficits, although the nature of the relation between attention and language in early development is not well known. This study represents a preliminary attempt to shed light on the relations between attention problems and language development in preterm low-birth-weight children.


The aim of this study was to analyse reciprocal influences between language and attention problems from 18 to 36 months. We used maternal reports on attention problems and language ability referring to a sample of 1288 premature low-birth-weight infants, collected as part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). A sample of children born full-term was used as the control group (N = 37010). Cross-lagged panel analyses were carried out to study reciprocal influences between attention problems and language.


Language ability at 18 months did not significantly predict attention problems at 36 months, adjusting for attention problems at 18 months. Attention problems at 18 months significantly predicted changes in language ability from 18 to 36 months, pointing to a precursor role of attention in relation to language in children born preterm. Gender, age corrected for prematurity, and mother's education emerged as important covariates.


Preliminary evidence was found for a precursor role of early attention problems in relation to language in prematurity. This finding can contribute to a better understanding of the developmental pathways of attention and language and lead to better management of unfavourable outcomes associated with co-morbid attention and language difficulties.

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