Premature Babies Eventually Catch Up With Vocabulary

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A premature baby's exposure to pain, oxygen and the environment can harm his or her immature brain.

But not to worry. Researchers say preemies are generally able to catch up in their ability to identify the names of things by their 16th birthdays.

There have been conflicting reports on developmental deficits among children born weeks or months before their due dates.

"This leaves one on a high note, that some of these kids do well," Gerry Taylor, a professor of pediatrics at Case Western who was not involved in the study, tells the Reuters news service.

Canadian and American researchers compared more than 300 children born early and weighing less than 3 pounds to 41 children who were born after a full-length pregnancy of 37 weeks.

In terms of what's called receptive vocabulary -- where kids are shown pictures of objects and asked to identify the correct picture for a given word -- the preemies generally caught up with everyone else by age 16.

Taylor tells Reuters premature children perform better on some tests and worse on others because the risk for brain damage when babies are born early is higher for some parts of the brain and lower for others.

"Some areas of the brain sustain more insult than others," Taylor tells Reuters.

The findings of this latest research "were encouraging, because we always focus on the negative" aspects of being born prematurely, lead researcher Thuy Mai Luu, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Sainte-Justine University Health Center in Montreal, tells Reuters.

Luu adds that her results show that a subset of preemies performs normally on some language and problem-solving tests.

"It's amazing that even with these areas of difficulty the children are able to compensate quite well, make use of their strengths, and go on to achieve," Taylor tells Reuters.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.