One of my doctorate classes this winter was Atypical Development 0-8, which basically translated to, "Everything that can go wrong to cause a child to have special needs from conception to early elementary school." We ended up spending 3/4 of the class on prenatal, preterm babies, and newborns. All while I was pregnant, yet before I'd told anyone I was pregnant. I sat through class after class biting my nails, listening to everything that might be going wrong in my uterus at that VERY MOMENT to be causing my child to have special need.
I was doing alright with it all until the guest speaker on Autism noted that her current research was showing that there most likely are environmental factors that cause Autism while the child is in the womb. I'd been able to sit through the class sessions on every other topic, but perhaps because this was news to me I about passed out at the table. One more thing to worry about? I immediately decided that the woman was wrong and blocked out the rest of her discussion.
One thing we focused on quite a lot was the new research on late-term preemies, or those born at 37 weeks. Until recently, 37 weeks wasn't considered premature, and doctors were even scheduling deliveries around 37 weeks if they were going out of town so they could deliver babies before they headed out on vacation. The research was fascinating, and much we heard was from researchers still writing up their results, or in the process of publishing, so their work hasn't been published yet. Some of what we read was published, and if I wasn't feeling lazy (I am 33 weeks pregnant after all) I would get off my couch and look up the articles so that I could cite them for you).
This afternoon I read this article today from NPR on how Drs are encouraging women to not induce labor before the baby is ready. The article fits in with all of the research we heard about and read this past semester. What it does not mention however, that some of the studies we heard about did, was that babies born at 37 weeks all seem to show cognitive delays in the same visual/motor integration areas as they grow older. The similarity in delays in children born at 37 weeks seemed to suggest to researchers that those specific regions of the brain are developing while the child is in the womb at 37 weeks.
This was new research not yet written up, and it may be proven false after the data is looked at again. But at the time the guest speakers met with us this was the pattern they had found in their data. They are continuing to follow these children to see how they fare in elementary school.
I found the implications fascinating, particularly for what it tells us about brain development and how early brain development can impact performance in the early years of development and into elementary school.
I found the NPR article interesting- worth the read- and thought it was nice to know that doctors are beginning to switch their practices.