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Four factors help predict later cognitive function and motor performance for children with low birth weight

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Medical complications during birth, maternal education, early motor condition, and early cognitive condition are predictive of kids’ cognitive and motor function.

Published in the January issue of Research in Developmental Disabilities, a new study by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development has revealed that four factors, namely medical complications during birth, maternal education, early motor condition, and early cognitive condition, are able to help in predicting later on cognitive and motor function for children that are premature and who also have low birth weight.

Previous researches have shown that children born early have an increased risk of having neurodevelopmental impairment. The occurrence of severe types of disabilities have been reduced among these premature children due to advances in medical science, but mild impairments still occur until later childhood, which is a big challenge for these children in their everyday lives.

Researches have shown that around 40 to 70 percent of preterm born children have minor neurodevelopmental impairments. Examples of these impairments are cognitive delays, speech and language disorders, and motor problems such as trouble with coordination and balance. These children sometimes also experience lower adaptive behavior, or the integrated ability of cognitive and motor skills, as well as social and emotional control that people use in their day-to-day tasks.

Study author Tsu-Hsin Howe, who is an associate professor of occupational therapy at NYU Steinhardt, says that a better understanding of the risk factors that underlie these impairments in preterm children can help health care experts in devising a prevention plan for the patient while the child is still young, as well as identify those who can be helped with this intervention.

The study aimed to identify predictors of neurodevelopmental outcomes in very low birth weight children at five years old, and also examined the contribution of early cognition and motor assessments to these premature children's developmental outcomes.

Participants in the study included 126 Taiwanese children who were born prematurely (at or before 32 weeks) who also had low birth weight (less than or equal to 1.5 kilograms, which translates to around 3.3 pounds), and who were also five years of age when the study was conducted. At the time of the study, the children were not experiencing any severe disabilities.

The participants were evaluated using neurodevelopmental assessments in order to see whether the status of their overall cognitive function and motor performance. Other information used in the study, such as demographics and the children's adaptive behavior, was acquired from the parents. Among those examined, the researchers then determined which factors would be able to help in predicting the children's developmental outcomes.

It was revealed in the study that around more than 50 percent of intelligence and around 30 percent of motor performance and adaptive behavior can be elucidated by examining four factors: medical complications at birth, maternal education, early motor assessments and early cognitive assessments of these preterm children.

Consistent with previous studies, we found significant associations between children's early developmental assessments and later outcomes, emphasizing the benefit of conducting detailed assessments of movement at one year of age. However, medical complications at birth were the most reliable predictor of preterm children's overall developmental outcomes, says Howe.