Modern medicine means that many more babies who are born very early and very small can now survive. These children are at greater risk for developmental problems, but a new study has very good news for the parents of "preemies."
It shows that many premature babies who have low mental abilities at age 3 can actually "grow out of it" by age 8. For example, Tyler Fitzgerald, 11, weighed just over 2 pounds at birth, and used to really struggle in school. He's a quadruplet, and his brothers and sister each weighed between two and three pounds at birth. His parents' biggest fear wasn't that their children weren't going to live. It was how they were going to develop as they grew older.
Up to half of very low birth weight babies have disabilities in the first several years of life, but some parents thought their kids were getting smarter. So researchers at the medical schools at Yale and Brown Universities, and at Maine Medical Center, decided to study the issue.
They followed about 300 very low birth weight babies, including Tyler and his sister, from birth through age 8, testing them regularly, looking at I.Q. testing, verbal function, and how well the children did on reading and tests of vocabulary and other verbal tests. They also looked at achievement tests. The researchers' startling findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
They found that many children who had tested borderline retarded or retarded at age 3 tested much higher at age 8. In fact, at age 8, they found 66% of the children who had been in the borderline range were now in the normal range and 49% of the children who had been in the mentally retarded range, or had I.Q.'s less than 70, were no longer mentally retarded.