Verbal short-term memory span in children: long-term modality dependent effects of intrauterine growth restriction

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Abstract

Background

Recent reports showed that children born with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) are at greater risk of experiencing verbal short-term memory span (STM) deficits that may impede their learning capacities at school. It is still unknown whether these deficits are modality dependent.

Methods

This long-term, prospective design study examined modality-dependent verbal STM functions in children who were diagnosed at birth with IUGR (n=138) and a control group (n=64). Their STM skills were evaluated individually at 9 years of age with four conditions of the Visual–Aural Digit Span Test (VADS; Koppitz, 1981): auditory–oral, auditory–written, visuospatial–oral and visuospatial–written. Cognitive competence was evaluated with the short form of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children – revised (WISC-R95; Wechsler, 1998).

Results

We found IUGR-related specific auditory-oral STM deficits (p< .036) in conjunction with two double dissociations: an auditory-visuospatial (p< .014) and an input–output processing distinction (p< .014). Cognitive competence had a significant effect on all four conditions; however, the effect of IUGR on the auditory-oral condition was not overridden by the effect of intelligence quotient (IQ).

Conclusions

Intrauterine growth restriction affects global competence and inter-modality processing, as well as distinct auditory input processing related to verbal STM functions. The findings support a long-term relationship between prenatal aberrant head growth and auditory verbal STM deficits by the end of the first decade of life. Empirical, clinical and educational implications are presented.

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