Four factors can help predict later cognitive function and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born prematurely and at a very low birth weight, according to a study published in Research in Developmental Disabilities.

A research team from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, led by Tsu-Hsin Howe, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Post-Professional Programs in the Department of Occupational Therapy, studied 126 Taiwanese 5-year-olds born prematurely and with a very low birth weight – at or before 32 weeks weighing less than or equal to approximately 3.3 lbs – to determine if a list of four factors can predict a child’s later cognitive function.

The list of factors includes: medical complications at birth, maternal education, early motor assessments, and early cognitive assessments.

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Study participants were evaluated using neurodevelopmental assessments to determine participants’ overall cognitive function and motor performance. The researchers collected information from parents, including demographic data. Data assessment indicated significant associations between children’s early developmental assessments and later outcomes.

“Medical complications at birth were the most reliable predictor of preterm children’s overall developmental outcomes,” said Dr Howe.

Previous research coincides with these findings: mild impairments have been noted among premature children and can persist out of infancy and into childhood. Studies suggest that 40% to 70% of preterm children have issues including cognitive delays, mild motor problems, and lower adaptive behavior.

“The findings of this study indicate that very low birth weight children tend to have lower adaptive behavior at 5 years old…. We believe that having adaptive function is a reflection of a child’s overall integrated abilities,” wrote Dr Howe. “Medical complications at birth were the most reliable predictor of preterm children’s overall developmental outcomes.”


  1. Howe T-H, Sheu C-F, Hsu Y-W, et al. Predicting neurodevelopmental outcomes at preschool age for children with very low birth weight. Res Dev Disabil. 2016;48:231-241. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2015.11.003