Do Preemies Have Difficulty with School?

Preemie parents discuss school issues for older preemies.

Compiled by Allison Martin

This discussion of school issues for preemies is recapped from the parent support group Preemie Child.

Question: I was wondering if anyone else with a preemie (my daughter was 6 weeks) has noticed that there children seem to learn more slowly than those of there typical age group. My 7 year old daughter is doing reasonably well in grade 2, but she is really struggling with reading. She is very choppy in her style, and is falling behind other children in her class.

Response #1: I am surprised at the number of parents who join the Preemie Child group who didn't notice any issues related to prematurity until their children hit school. Examples of school issues are social skills, attention or specific learning problems such as math. These new issues are sometimes a problem in all subjects but more often it is just a few areas of difficulty (e.g., math) or types of difficulty (e.g., motor planning) that seem to crop up as school pressure increases. Some kids, like my son, get more diagnoses as time goes on - like learning disabilities or mild autism.

Response #2: I am a high school teacher and the mother of 27 week old preemies, now 14 1/2 and going into Grade 9. My girls were 1 lb. 11 oz and 2 lb. 7 oz, and the smaller of the two is having more difficulties than her twin. Both are in learning assistance, one more than the other, at the expense of another subject, yes, but to great advantage to both of them. My neonatologist told me that the one pounders have a very hard time of it in school and the two pounders "just make it". It has proved very true and it was good to know beforehand to be able to properly pave the way for both of them.

Response #3: My will be 15 in November and were both just over a pound a half at birth. One did struggle in school for a few years but 8th grade turned her around completely. She is so focused on what she wants to do as an adult that she is working hard. Both of my girls are in high school and taking advanced classes. One has very mild cerebral palsy but is handling marching band (8 hours a week 0f practice) much better than I ever could!

Response #4: My son is now 7 1/2 and in first grade. After being told for years that we had a "miracle" child (i.e. relatively few health problems after 18 months), we have only recently awakened to the "second life" of a preemie-when the survivor enters school. We are becoming as involved in his development as we once were in his health. We are all determined to provide as good support scholastically as we did medically. My only regret is that the practitioners dropped us because our son was doing so "well". Thanks this site, I can voice this and help others. I am glad that I did not awaken too late!

Response #5: My 28 week preemie who weighed 374g (13 ounce) is now 7 and in Grade 1. He seems to be coping but his fine motor skills are not quite up to par. Fortunately our school is developing some programs called "Support-a-reader" and "Support-a-writer" where they give children one-on-one support if needed. He is a very bright, intelligent little boy with a lot of personality and hopefully this will help him get through. I also held him back a year doing two years of preschool so that he would be a little more mature and therefore able to cope better with Grade 1.

Response #6: Don't let the pediatrician reassure you if you suspect any delay or difference. It really isn't too early to have you child seen by a developmental pediatrician. Many medical centers and hospitals have follow up clinics to periodically check High Risk Babies development. See a sensory integration therapist for a look see and suggestions on great developmental play. Go to the library and get some books on child play and development. Beware of ear infections and see a ear specialist if your child gets them as ear infections can effect speech, social develop and other senses. Read to your child every day. Do what your doing now - getting information. Talk to your child a lot and make eye contact when you do. Carry and hold a lot Enjoy the baby a lot. I wished I got hip to all this when my preemie was young. I think it would got my child help earlier and have helped me understand what was going on and what to do.

Allison Martin is the mother of a preemie and moderator of the support group, Preemie Child.