Executive Function Is Associated with Social Competence in Preschool-Aged Children Born Preterm or Full Term
Executive function (EF), defined as higher-order cognitive processes used in planning and organizing actions and emotions, is often impaired in children born preterm. Few studies have assessed social competence, the processes and resources required to meet social demands and achieve social goals, in children born preterm. The relations between EF and social competence in preterm and full term preschoolers have not been well characterized.
To characterize social competence and assess the relationship between EF and social competence in preschool-aged children born preterm or full term.
Study subjects had a history of preterm birth (≤ 34 weeks of gestation) and birth weight < 2500 g (n = 70). Controls were born full term (≥ 37 weeks) (n = 79).
Children completed a battery of EF tasks; a mean age-adjusted z-score for the battery was generated for each child. Parents rated child EF on one scale and child social competence on two standardized scales.
Compared to full term children, preterm children showed a lower mean EF battery z-score, poorer parent-rated EF, and poorer scores on the two social competence scales. In hierarchical multiple regression models, EF battery z-score and parent-rated EF made independent contributions to both measures of social competence. Preterm birth explained additional variance for one measure of social competence.
Standard assessment of EF skills and social competence in young preschool children, including children born preterm, may identify at-risk children for long-term social difficulties and may also provide targets for intervention.
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