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Premature Birth and Neurofeedback by Dr. Jolene Ross

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Low birth weight is considered less than five pounds eight ounces. In the US, 12% of babies are born prematurely. Since the early 80’s the rate of prematurity has risen by 17%. Research consistently finds a greater risk of developmental disabilities as these children move from infancy through adolescence. Prematurity can result in brain injures causing neuromotor and cognitive deficits. Oxygen deprivation and respiratory problems require oxygen supplementation, and can cause permanent injury to the brain and have been linked to later cognitive and motor deficits.  Premature, low birth weight and fragile infants often have a variety of disabilities in the areas of cognitive, academic, sensorimotor, social-emotional and behavioral development.

Infants in the NICU are exposed to loud noises, bright lights, frequent handling, and painful procedures that their fragile brains are not ready to process, and find over stimulating and traumatic.

Studies show higher rates of both major developmental handicaps such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning disability, and attention deficits in preterm and/or with low birth weights. In addition it is theorized that premature exposure to the extra uterine environment may negatively affect the proliferation, organization, and selective paring of neurons in the preterm infant’s maturing brain.

About 35% to 65% of children born with extra low birth weight (less than two pounds three ounces) demonstrate learning disabilities and/or require special education serviced once they reach school age. The majority of outcome studies comparing preterm, low birth weight children with those born full term demonstrate significantly higher rates of milder disabilities, such as learning deficits, and more severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Significantly higher rates of enrollment in early intervention or special education classes are also documented throughout early childhood and the school age years.

Many preterm and low birth weight infants present with expressive language delays, visual-motor, visual spatial deficits, and/or attention difficulties in the first few years of life. Professionals believe that these early deficits are associated with later academic and learning problems. Once in school, they have a higher rate of learning disabilities and lower scores on tests of reading, writing, math, spelling and executive functioning. 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.netBhutta et al conducted a meta analysis of studies examining IQ scores of preterm and low birth weight children as compared to full term normal weight children. The average across the fifteen studies was a difference in 10.9 IQ points. Low birth weight children and young adults demonstrate significantly lower mean IQ scores than full-term controls, however more than 50% of the low birth weight and preterm children and young adults score within normal limits on IQ tests. As many as 22% to 28% of preterm, low birth weight children have language deficits within the first few years of life, which is significantly higher than the general population.

They also have difficulties with self-regulation and organization of sensory input. They are more likely to experience oral defensiveness, feeding problems, tactile defensiveness, general sensory integration problems, and sensory seeking. Many studies have found higher rates of attention problems in premature and low birth weight children. It is notable that these children are more likely to have the type of attention problems that are not associated with hyperactivity or conduct disorder, which are often seen in the general population.

Research has shown that neurofeedback improves IQ an average of between 9 and 12 points in children no matter the starting IQ, including the IQ’s of those who are intellectually challenged. In other words, neurofeedback can correct the problem of depressed IQ that results from premature birth, low birth weight, and fragility.

Neurofeedback effectively improves language, executive functions, auditory processing, sensory integration, physical coordination, calms startle response, improves attention. Neurofeedback calms tactile defensiveness, sensory seeking, self-regulation. In other words, it has been shown through research and through my nearly twenty years of experience that neurofeedback effectively and durably improves the functioning of premature, low birth weight, and fragile birth children in all the areas of challenge outlined.

Jessie*, now age 12, was born ten weeks prior to his due date, weighted 3 lbs. 7 oz., and had heart surgery as an infant. When he first came into the office, he sat very quietly, said as little as possible and looked tired and foggy. At birth, he had low muscle tone as well as speech and language delays. He qualified for early intervention, and as a preschooler had OT, PT, speech and language support. He has received special education services throughout his life. His IQ is in the low 60’s, but is likely to be an underestimation of his abilities as he has significant attention challenges and visual processing problems because his eyes do not work together effectively, a common problem, especially for preterm and low birth weight children. Jessie has the common challenges of a child born preterm with the added challenge of having had surgery. Based on research, surgery prior to the age of 2 ½ increases risk of attention and learning disabilities. 

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.netNeurofeedback has been very helpful for Jessie. His psycho-stimulant dose has been cut in half with no increase in ADD problems at home or at school. He is doing better in school and with friends, with a 30.7% average improvement in target behaviors with a range of from ten to 70%. Executive functions, social competence, energy, memory, processing speed, physical balance, fine and gross motor and getting overwhelmed have all improved significantly. He is a much bigger help around the house with increased responsibility and quality when performing chores. School work, materials preparation, organization, note taking, grades, getting to class on time and motivation are all significantly improved. Jessie is now able to go without his medication on weekends, which is new, and is able to clean his room with nearly complete independence.

Motivation at school is much improved. In the past he did not care about how he did in school and had no interest in continuing his education. Now he cares about how he does in school, gets good grades, primarily A’s. He has recently started to have conversations with staff and we have noticed a dramatic reduction in impulsive behaviors during sessions.

Schedule a free consultationwith our director Dr. Jolene Ross to learn how neurofeedback can benefit your child's or your specific case. 

*Names have been changed to protect patient privacy.

First image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Second image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Third image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Behavioral Problems , Treatment Modalities

Behavioral Problems , Brain Injury

Health & Wellness , Treatment Modalities

Posted in Behavioral Problems, Brain Injury, Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Treatment Modalities Tagged Behavioral Problems, Brain Injury, Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Treatment Modalities

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