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Research has shown that premature babies show less interest in other people as compared to their full-term counterparts, when tested at 6 and 12 months of age. This behaviour has been associated with social communication issues such as autism.
Showing attention and interest in other people is a very important and fundamental role regarding the social cognitive development of children in the early stages of life. Infants which are born prematurely though display a different pattern of showing attention to others. They are more at risk to developing autism spectrum disorder as they are exposed to tremendous amounts of stress levels in the early days following birth. Babies born before 26 weeks gestation may have a greater risk of ASD.


Social communication skills

Social communication skills are defined as the synergistic emergence of social cognition, social interaction, verbal and non-verbal pragmatics as well as expressive and receptive language.

When there are situations which disrupt social communication skills, then disorders such as autism, language impairment, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can occur.

Research done on this phenomenon

In a study that was conducted at Kyoto University in Japan, researchers simultaneously displayed videos showing geometric patterns and people to 6 and 12 month old babies and checking which videos the infants preferred. Their gaze, which was followed with an eye tracker, signified interest meaning that the longer the amount of time was spent looking at the individuals on the video, the more interest there was in others.

This technique revealed that full-term babies spent more time looking at the people on the video, but a large number of preterm babies at the same ages showed more interest in the geometric motion.

In another task, the researchers checked how well the babies could follow the gaze of other people. In this exercise it was discovered that 6 month old full-term children followed the gazes of individuals in the video, whereas preterm babies showed difficulty in doing so.

The researchers did point out though that preterm babies do develop the ability to show interest in others and follow their eye movements between 6-12 months of age. The conclusion was that it does seem like the nervous system of preterm babies develop in a very different manner to that of full-term babies.

The results which were discovered in this study seems to add strength to the idea that social communication skills may be hampered in preterm babies during their early years.

Developmental delays

Developmental delays are usually suspected when the caregiver of a child notices that they don't reach their expected milestones or child development stages. These children are assessed by their primary care doctor and then referred to a paediatrician for further evaluation, investigation and management.

Developmental delays can be associated with numerous issues such as those related to physical health. They may include the following problems:

  • Poor heart function in people with Down syndrome.
  • Sensory issues such as poor hearing or vision.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Poor dental health.
  • Obesity.
  • Life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years below those without developmental issues.

Developmental delays can also be associated with certain mental health issues and there are factors which can be attributed to the increased incidence rate of dual diagnoses. They include the following:

  • Traumatic events such as abuse, bullying, harassment or abandonment. 
  • Social restrictions such as poverty, lack of education and limited opportunities of employment.
  • Issues such as brain injuries, alcohol or prescription drug misuse and epilepsy.
  • Lack of understanding of social norms and behaviours.
  • Inadequate access to health care providers.
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