After the NICU: Preemies Excel With Early Intervention Therapy Age 0 to 5
Premature babies (aka “preemies”) born earlier than the 37th week of pregnancy, are more likely to survive today even compared to the 1990s – and they are more likely to have less severe disabilities. That’s according to research published in the British Medical Journal. Globally, about 15 million babies every year are born before the 37th week, placing them at higher risk for conditions like cerebral palsy, delayed language, speech and motor skills. Study authors further concluded preemies who receive early intervention therapy have a much better chance of catching up to their peers.
Preemies are already starting out behind the curve. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of serious illness and disability. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports preemies who survive those early weeks and months in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) may still struggle with breathing trouble, intestinal/digestive problems (including feeding and swallowing) and developmental delays. About half of all children born more than eight weeks early or at a very low birth weight develop problems with language, learning and executive function.
As our FOCUS Fort Myers therapy team can explain, early intervention therapy involves a combination of separate but interrelated services, tailored to meet the specific needs of each child, with the core aim of helping a child develop skills that will allow them to reach their full potential. This generally includes some combination of speech and language therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Although many preemies benefit from this therapy up to age 5 and sometimes beyond, commitment to therapy now reduces the struggles preemies will face down the road.
Our skilled, compassionate pediatric therapists work with our preemie patients day-by-day, challenge-by-challenge – until the delays become less-and-less noticeable. Many of these children go on to perform well in academics, athletics, arts and more – and you’d likely never even know they were preemies unless someone told you.
Adjusting the Developmental Calendar for Preemies
As far as missed milestones, any early intervention therapy team will take into account the fact that we need to adjust milestones to a child’s “corrected age.” While a birth date is important, the due date also tells us a lot about where we can reasonably expect them to be in order to “catch up.” The due date will be the date we use to measure what developmental milestones are typical for a child his or her age.
For example, if your child is 6-months-old, but was born 8 weeks early, we’d subtract 2 months from 6 months to know his or her developmental age is actually 4 months. We would not expect a 4-month-old to be performing the exact same tasks as a child of 6 months.
More important than exact milestones is that progress is steady. If you notice areas in which he or she needs some help, know that you do not need to go it alone.
Do All Preemies Need Early Intervention Therapy?
We try to avoid making any sweeping statements (because there will always be exceptions). However, if your child was born premature and especially if concerns persist past the 1-year mark, it’s probably worth a serious discussion about early intervention therapy with your pediatrician.
Dr. Susan Hintz, MD, MS EPi, neonatologist, professor of pediatrics at Stanford and medical director of the Fetal and Pregnancy Health Program in the Johnson Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, was quoted by the hospital as saying the trajectory of care must “continue all the way through childhood. It’s very important for families to have a consistent followup with a team of developmental pediatricians, occupational therapists, physical therapists and others who can recognize the early signs of developmental, behavioral, language or other motor challenges.”
Further, researchers have noted that sometimes treating a child at-risk for certain conditions (like cerebral palsy) with early intervention therapy before age 2, sometimes before diagnosis or apparent symptoms, has its benefits.
If you have questions, our dedicated early intervention therapy team will do our best to help answer.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Studying Connections Between Prematurity and Development, Nov. 18, 2014, By Mark Schwartz, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
More Blog Entries:
Talking to Kids About Peers With Disabilities: Perspective From Fort Myers Occupational Therapists, Feb. 10, 2019, FOCUS Fort Myers Early Intervention Therapy for Children With Disabilities Blog