Very Preterm Babies Show Cognitive Catch-Up In The School Years
Very preterm babies (weighing 1250 g or less — which is less than 3 pounds) typically show cognitive delays. Some of these are due to correlated medical conditions and some may be due to more general maturational issues. That said, a study published in the August issue of Pediatrics suggests that there is significant potential for cognitive catch-up, especially during the school years.
This study used a longitudinal design to track the cognitive development of 322 very preterm children (and 41 comparison term children) at 8, 12, and 16 years of age. Although there were group differences in some indicators of cognitive development (such as phonological awareness), the very preterm children did show significant catch-up, particularly in receptive vocabulary. Over half of the very preterm children demonstrated patterns of cognitive development that were similar to the term children.
As the authors note, the mechanisms responsible for cognitive catch-up are not clear. But it is clear that the potential for catch-up should be taken seriously by parents and professionals. In particular, one of the possibilities is that early developmental stimulation can lead to meaningful developmental changes, even if the results of those changes aren’t realized until later in development.
To that end, parents who have very preterm children are encouraged to seek out ways to provide appropriate encouragement of cognitive development. Partnering with a pediatrician is a very good way to start, as is working with school personnel (even beginning in preschool). The most important take-home messages from this research is that these efforts should be started early, and that the benefits may not be realized immediately — but they will be worth the wait.Add a Comment