The Need for Early Intervention and other Adjustments for Preemies

A mother of preemie twins presents societal changes to mitigate for early birth.

By Patti Wrape

I believe that early intervention and environment can mitigate many of the effects of severe prematurity. Just as individuals recover from a stroke or head injury effective intervention can stimulate brain activity and allow it to mend itself. However, just as children learn a second language the earlier they are exposed to it, there is a window of time in which intervention is most effective. A program of occupational, speech therapy and a good special education program that includes socialization skills is required to mainstream premature children.

However, many premature parents are not informed of the need for early intervention and do not have access to appropriate programs. This is because many educators and doctors have yet to recognize "impacts of prematurity" as a developmental disorder in and of itself. Prematurity is increasing due to the use of surfactant, use of fertility drugs and due to woman delaying pregnancy until later in life. But I believe that proper research and resources have not been allocated to the subject of prematurity because the perception still exists that "preemies" are the results of at risk behavior, "crack moms", fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. and that most preemies are already doomed to have problems and be underachievers. In addition, neonatologists (who do incredible work but are not child development experts) frequently tell parents that their preemie child will "catch up" causing many parents to adopt a "wait and see" attitude, when they should be seeking early intervention services.

I would like (hope/dream) that all parents, grandparents, friends of premature children become advocates for premature children's’ rights. My wish list is:

1. All parents of preemies would be allowed to use adjusted age in lieu of birth date at their discretion for school, sports, etc.

2. There should be a centralized source at the federal and state levels to serve as an information clearinghouse for information and research on premature children and how to find resources and support.

3. Neonatal units would be required to provide parents of preemies with contact information for this information clearinghouse. Parents should be encouraged to have children undergo a full developmental screening at age 3.

4. Funding should be allocated to research educational delays in premature preschool age children and recommendations should be made to develop programs that specifically meet their needs.

5. A grant should be allocated to a medical school and engineering school to conduct a pilot study for a less invasive neonatal unit which is more womb-like; the technology exists, the motivation does not.