Neuropediatrics 2024; 55(01): 016-022
DOI: 10.1055/a-2023-9280
Original Article

Executive Function Assessment in 2-Year-Olds Born Preterm

1   Department of Development and Regeneration, Faculty of Medicine, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Bieke Bollen
1   Department of Development and Regeneration, Faculty of Medicine, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Bart Boets
2   Leuven Autism Research consortium, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
3   Center for Developmental Psychiatry, Department of Neurosciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Gunnar Naulaers
1   Department of Development and Regeneration, Faculty of Medicine, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Els Ortibus
1   Department of Development and Regeneration, Faculty of Medicine, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
› Author Affiliations
Funding This work was supported by Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds KU Leuven (BOF): C24/15/036 “The effect of perinatal stress on the later outcome in preterm babies” and Fonds Kinderziekenhuis KU Leuven.


Objective Our objective was to investigate the executive function and its relationship with gestational age, sex, maternal education, and neurodevelopmental outcome at 2 years corrected age in children born preterm.

Method Executive function was assessed by means of the Multisearch Multilocation Task (MSML), Reversed Categorization Task (RevCat), and Snack Delay Task (SDT). Infant and maternal characteristics were gathered from the child's record. The developmental outcome was measured by the Bayley Scales and a multidisciplinary risk evaluation for autism.

Results The executive function battery was completed by 97 children. The majority were able to successfully complete the MSML and SDT but failed RevCat. The lower the gestational age and the maternal education, the lower the executive function scores. Better cognition and motor function, as well as low autism risk, were associated with better executive function scores. Executive function was not related to sex.

Interpretation This cohort study provides evidence that it is feasible to assess executive function in 2-year-olds born preterm. Executive function is related to gestational age and maternal education and is positively correlated with behavioral outcome. Therefore, executive functions can be a valuable target for early intervention, resulting in improvements in neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born preterm.

Clinical Trial Registration

Full name AND URL of the registry: (

Registration number of your study: NCT02623400.

Type of study: Prospective.

Publication History

Received: 15 March 2022

Accepted: 07 January 2023

Accepted Manuscript online:
31 January 2023

Article published online:
07 March 2023

© 2023. Thieme. All rights reserved.

Georg Thieme Verlag KG
Rüdigerstraße 14, 70469 Stuttgart, Germany

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