Mrs Sari O’Meagher1,2, Dr Kimberley Norris2, Dr Nenagh Kemp2
1Tasmanian Health Service (RHH, Department of Psychology), Hobart, Australia, 2University of Tasmania, School of Medicine (Psychology), Hobart, Australia
Children born preterm are at higher risk of having developmental and cognitive difficulties. Little is known if there are differences in cognitive outcomes, attendance rates in therapy or associated social and medical risks between preterm pre-school children from South, North and North-West Tasmania. It is important to identify if any groups of preterm children coming from different areas have worse outcomes than others and whether they have equal access to intervention and therapies. Identification of any inequities could enable action to ensure that all Tasmanian preterm pre-schoolers are appropriately supported prior to entering schooling.
184 children born preterm (<33 weeks gestation) in Tasmania during 2007-2009, and cared for at the Royal Hobart Hospital, were identified for this study. The parents of 141 (77%) children agreed to participate in the study. The preterm children were assessed by using cognitive assessment tools (WPPSI-III, NEPSY-II, Day-Night Stroop and Shape School Task) at the age of 4 years prior to starting kindergarten. Social and medical risk factors and attendance at the Early Childhood Services, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy were recorded for the purpose of comparison.
There were no significant differences in cognitive outcomes between the preterm pre-schoolers from South, North and North-West Tasmania. Also, the social and medical risk factors were similar, apart from a shorter stay at the Royal Hobart Hospital for the children from Northern Tasmania. Nevertheless, there were regional differences in attendance rates in early intervention and allied health therapies.
Tasmanian preterm pre-school children did not have significant differences in risk factors or cognitive outcomes based on their residential region, albeit their intervention attendance rates varied. Further studies investigating associations between educational and allied health intervention and outcomes are warranted.
Sari O’Meagher works as a psychologist at the Royal Hobart Hospital paediatric services. She is completing her PhD at the University of Tasmania relating to cognitive outcomes of young preterm children.