Parents in Germany who volunteered their children soon after birth saw their children tested at stages up to the age of eight for a range of skills including grammar, sentence production, and language comprehension, quality of speech, grammar correctness and pre-reading skills.
Dr Eryigit-Madzwamuse said: “At all five time points across early development, very preterm children had lower language performance than term-born children. At three of the ages, moderate-late preterm children also scored lower than term-born children and better than very preterm children. The differences are consistent from 20 months to eight years.
“Pediatricians and parents should be made aware that preterm-born children, even those born moderate-late preterm, are at risk for delayed language compared to term children.
“By 20 months of age, children who are performing poorly relative to their peers are likely to continue to perform poorly at later ages, suggesting that standard follow-up assessment of language at the end of the second year of life is highly predictive and may indicate the need for intervention.
“Stability in language performance appears to strengthen over time. From age four to age eight, about 90 per cent of the variance in children’s later language performance was explained by their earlier language performance, suggesting that early intervention, well before school entry, may be critical.
“Similar to what we have found in our previous preterm publications, family socio-economic status has significant impact on these results, explaining the stability over time and differences between three birth groups. Future research should explore the impact of contextual factors, especially within the family and school contexts, on development of preterm children.
“This study also emphasises the importance of frequent checkups in the first couple of years after preterm birth. Through regular checkups in toddlerhood, pediatricians have the opportunity to connect children who have lagging language skills to critical remedial services.”
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