Sensory processing difficulties in school-age children born very preterm: An exploratory study

Tinka Bröring*, Marsh Königs, Kim J. Oostrom, Harrie N. Lafeber, Anniek Brugman, Jaap Oosterlaan

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background Very preterm birth has a detrimental impact on the developing brain, including widespread white matter brain abnormalities that threaten efficient sensory processing. Yet, sensory processing difficulties in very preterm children are scarcely studied, especially at school age. Aims To investigate somatosensory registration, multisensory integration and sensory modulation. Participants 57 very preterm school-age children (mean age = 9.2 years) were compared to 56 gender and age matched full-term children. Methods Group differences on somatosensory registration tasks (Registration of Light Touch, Sensory Discrimination of Touch, Position Sense, Graphestesia), a computerized multisensory integration task, and the parent-reported Sensory Profile were investigated using t-tests and Mann-Whitney U tests. Results In comparison to full-term children, very preterm children are less accurate on somatosensory registration tasks, including Registration of Light Touch (d = 0.34), Position Sense (d = 0.31) and Graphestesia (d = 0.42) and show more sensory modulation difficulties (d = 0.41), including both behavioral hyporesponsivity (d = 0.52) and hyperresponsivity (d = 0.56) to sensory stimuli. Tactile discrimination and multisensory integration efficiency were not affected in very preterm children. Aspects of sensory processing were only modestly related. Conclusion Very preterm children show sensory processing difficulties regarding somatosensory registration and sensory modulation, and preserved multisensory (audio-visual) integration. Follow-up care for very preterm children should involve screening of sensory processing difficulties at least up to school age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-31
Number of pages10
JournalEarly Human Development
Early online date8 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


We thank all participating children and their families for their effort and time, which made this study possible. We thank prof. dr. Cornelis van Bochove for his advice on statistical issues. This work was supported by the Hersenstichting Netherlands , (grant # 2011(1)-161 ) and by an unrestricted research grant from Friesland Campina , The Netherlands. However, the funders had no role whatsoever in designing this study, preparing the manuscript or decision to publish

FundersFunder number
Friesland Campina


    • Multisensory integration
    • Prematurity
    • Sensory modulation
    • Sensory processing
    • Very preterm


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