Children with a heart defect face many challenges, and a study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes suggests that significant learning challenges may also be among them.
The study, conducted by researchers from Emory University School of Medicine, reviewed the public data available for students in North Carolina and found that children with congenital heart defects (CHD) experienced lower scores on standard reading and math tests by the end of the third grade.
While children with critical heart defects were 46 percent more likely to get support from their school through special education services, all children that experienced heart disease had a higher likelihood of experiencing learning challenges. Regardless of the severity of the heart disease, those children were 24 percent more likely to not meet state standards.
The reasons why children with less severe forms of heart disease also experience these learning challenges are unclear. Aside from the daily challenges faced by children with a congenital heart defect, child heart disease treatments can also interrupt studies. Co-existing brain development issues may also play a part.
The researchers wrote that “children with milder congenital heart defects do not typically share those risk factors; however, both groups of children with congenital heart defects may share a genetic vulnerability to problems with brain development.”
What to Do About It
Because of the correlation between CHD and reduced academic ability, child heart disease treatment should include neuropsychological screening as a standard practice. Children with CHD should also be given access to special education services, even if they don’t appear to have significant physical challenges.