Babies born premature have poorer language abilities when
compared to their peers at seven years of age, a Murdoch Childrens
Research Institute study has found.
Researchers investigated language abilities in 198 children born
very preterm (less than 32 weeks) and very low birth weight (less
than 1500 grams) at seven years of age and compared their
performance with 70 children who were born at term.
Researchers also looked for white matter abnormalities as they
hypothesised those children born preterm would demonstrate impaired
language function because of the presence of diffuse white matter
The study, which is published in Journal of Pediatrics,
found the group of children born very premature performed
significantly worse than the children born at term on all language
areas assessed including spoken word awareness, semantics, grammar,
discourse and pragmatics.
The study showed that white matter abnormality occurring during
the neonatal period was a key predictive factor for four out of
five language areas seven years later. White matter
abnormalities were associated with performance in phonological
awareness, semantics, grammar, and discourse.
However, the results indicated that other factors associated
with prematurity are also likely to influence language ability.
Researchers said it's possible that environmental factors provide
additional influence on language abilities; however, say further
research is needed to understand the most significant determinants
of cognitive skills.
Lead researcher, A/Professor Peter Anderson said the study
highlights that families should closely monitor their child's
"Language development is a clinically important area of
development concern in these children. Paying close attention to a
premature babies' language development is essential for parents so
that discrepancies from normal development can be discovered and
addressed during early childhood."
Researchers from the Institute are now developing a new
preventive intervention for premature babies, which they hope will
enhance language development, along with other functional