When you first bring your premature baby home from the hospital, his future language development is probably the last thing on your mind. But over time, if your child is a late talker or has other speech issues, you might wonder about the long-term effect of prematurity on speech. Preemies often do talk later and have more speech issues than full-term infants.
1. Adjusted Age
Whenever you compare your preemie to other babies of the same age, it's important to use his adjusted or corrected age rather than his actual or chronological age. A baby born three months early will behave like an infant three months younger than his chronological age. Throw out his birth date whenever you're measuring his performance of physical or developmental milestones and use his due date to determine where he should say his first word or start putting words together in sentences.
2. Degree of Prematurity
A baby born four weeks premature with no health issues and who came immediately home from the hospital will probably have less risk of speech delays than a baby born four months early who spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit. A baby who faced more severe health issues early in his life is more likely to have developmental delays in speech and other areas until he has time to catch up with his peers. The more premature a baby is, the more likely he is to have language delays, a New Zealand study published in the 2007 "Journal of Child Language" found.
3. Preemie Issues That Afffect Speech
A premature birth and spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit can have lasting effects on your baby. Between 40 and 70 percent of preemies have some degree of oral aversion, according to the Nutrition 411 website. Oral aversion can lead to problems with oral motor development and oral sensitivity, which can affect speech, the NYU Langone Medical Center Child Study Center explains. Premature infants also have a higher incidence of hearing loss, auditory processing and auditory discrimination, according to the textbook "Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention." All can affect a child's ability to learn to talk.
4. Helping Your Preemie
You can help your preemie start to talk at the proper time in several ways. Talk to him frequently, using short, simple sentences and avoid baby talk. Read to him often and show him pictures in books. Encourage him to imitate your vocalizations. If he has an oral aversion, follow his speech therapist's directions to help him along.
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Premature Infants: A Later Look
- Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention; The National Academies Press
- Journal of Child Language: Early Delayed Language Development in Very Preterm Infants: Evidence from the MacArthur-Bates CDI
- Nutrition 411: Feeding Issues: Treating Severe Food Aversion and Extreme Food Selectivity
- Kids Health from Nemours: Delayed Speech or Language Development
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