Child development, Follow-up studies, Prematurity, Risk factors, treatment outcome



  1. Lindeke, Linda L. PhD, RN, CNP
  2. Stanley, Jennifer R. MS, MPH, RN, CNP
  3. Else, Beth S. MS, RN, CNP
  4. Mills, Marla M. MS, RN, CNP


Background: Ill or premature newborns are at increased risk for ongoing morbidity throughout childhood. Federal legislation now mandates that states provide early intervention, special education, and disability accommodations for children with special needs. Because all children born prematurely do not require all services, targeting services to the children with greatest risk is essential. This study examined whether neonatal characteristics could predict special school-based service use (speech, occupational, physical therapy, special education) in later childhood.


Methods: Subjects were 53 children, ages 7 to 11 years, graduates of one Midwest Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Neonatal data were used to calculate Neurobiologic Risk Scores (NBRS), a sum of illness factors related to brain damage. Birth weight, length of NICU stay, and NBRS were compared to the children's school performance on standardized tools and to report cards.


Results: Most children studied were not receiving special school services. The NBRS and parent report of child competency were related (p = 0.01). Length of NICU stay correlated with teachers' reports of children's academic performance (p = 0.04), and to use of special school services use (p = 0.03). As the NBRS score increased, report card performance decreased.


Conclusions: Neonatal characteristics predicted school-age service use. This is important for nurses because predicting which children are most likely to need special services can aid in tracking children at high risk for prompt assessments and referrals. Parents, healthcare providers, educators, advocacy groups, and funding agencies need accurate outcome data to influence health, educational, and social policy decisions.