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A top Ulster University psychologist has received a national research award recognising her pioneering published research into better understanding why some premature children struggle with maths.

Dr Victoria Simms was presented with the prestigious Neil O'Connor award by The British Psychological Society at Manchester's Palace Hotel for her published paper on the Premature Infants Skills in Mathematics (PRISM) study.

Funded by Action Medical Research and carried out by the UK team of children's development experts, the PRISM study found that children born before 32 weeks of pregnancy are more likely to have difficulties with maths in primary school and showed, for the first time, that these stemmed from problems with memory and hand-eye coordination.

As a result of Dr Simm's published research, Action Medical Research has awarded a second grant of £220,000 to further investigate the learning and maths skills of these children as teenagers now they are in secondary school.

Dr Simms said: "One in every 50 babies is born before 32 weeks of pregnancy and as a result many will have learning difficulties. These children are most likely to struggle with maths at school. Such difficulties can affect children's prospects throughout all their school years and indeed their entire lives.

 "PRISM is a big step forward in helping improve the lives of children with learning difficulties and the Neil O'Connor Award recognises how important this research is in supporting premature children's learning now and in the future.

 "The new phase of research will explore how their maths skills have developed from primary to secondary school. We will find out which areas of maths they are struggling with and why, and find out what types of support they need at school.

 "The results of this research will provide targeted help for teachers who feel ill-equipped to support children with such learning difficulties. The aim is to develop a web-based, e-learning programme that will show them how best to support premature children's learning, especially in maths."

Dr Simms was the lead author of the PRISM paper recognised by the British Psychological Society Neil O'Connor Award. She worked alongside Dr Samantha Johnson, University of Leicester; Dr Camilla Gilmore, Loughborough University; Dr Lucy Cragg, University of Nottingham; and Professor Neil Marlow, University College London.