Intensive Program Can Help Premature Babies Learn -- At the Start

December 11, 1998

Early, intensive intervention can boost development and academic achievement for premature and low birth-weight babies for a few years, but the benefits appear to fade over time.

University of Miami researchers have been following since birth more than 400 children from a low income, multi-ethnic section of Miami. The children, now 9 years old, include 110 born prematurely and with low weight and 299 born with normal weight.

Writing in the January issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Holly A. Hollomon, PhD, and Keith G. Scott, PhD, trace the children's academic progress.

From birth to age three, 50 of the children born prematurely and with low weight received 25 hours a week of center-based care designed to develop their cognitive, motor, and linguistic skills, plus pediatric follow-up and social support services. Their performance in school consistently outpaced that of the other 60 children born prematurely and with low weight who received only the pediatric care and social support services, but still ran below achievement levels of those born with normal weight.

Children born with low weight who did not receive the intensive intervention were at an increased risk of scoring below the tenth percentile on achievement tests and were placed in special education classes three times as often as their normal birth-weight peers.

While the early intervention significantly improved the short-term achievements of children with low birth-weight, long-term outcomes need further investigation, the researchers say, because by age 9 the benefits were fading.

The researchers note that at this point, "The children had not been receiving intervention from the Infant Health and Development Program for six years. At age 3 there were significant differences...(but) decreases in the differences between groups were found at age 5, with fewer differences found at age 8. The trend appears to be continuing at age 9."

The researchers intend to follow the youngsters throughout their educational careers and beyond.
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The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics is published bi-monthly by the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. For information about the journal, contact: Mary Sharkey at 212-460-9112.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health . For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert, 202-387-2829
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Center for Advancing Health

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