This article from the ZERO TO THREE Journal compares and contrasts myths and realities about premature infants’ needs, abilities, and long-term development.
We used to think that if premature infants reached school age without showing evidence of developmental problems, they would not experience further difficulties related to their prematurity. Unfortunately, the more we understand the impact of early birth on the later differentiation of the child’s abilities, the more we realize that children born prematurely may have long-term, significant physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional challenges that contribute to difficulties in school. Children born prematurely often have deficits in visual–spatial skills and receptive and expressive language problems. They may have a hard time coloring within the lines, doing arithmetic, or sitting still and paying attention to the teacher. Although systematic studies are lacking, parents and professionals frequently report regulatory disorders, anxiety, and problems with peer relationships among prematurely born children. As infants progress through toddlerhood and preschool to the school years, neurodevelopmental issues become evident. Many prematurely born children need special education services.
Learn more about what we know now about the long-term development of premature infants and how this information is improving services for young children and their families.