Motor development in very preterm children differs in several important ways from that of children born at full term. Variability is common, although the anatomic and physiologic bases for that variability are often poorly understood. Motor patterns over the first postnatal year may depend on behaviours learned during often long periods of neonatal intensive care. The normal pattern of development may be modified by disturbances of brain function caused both by the interruption of normal brain maturation ex-utero and the superimposition of focal brain injuries following very preterm birth. Abnormal patterns of development over the first year may evolve into clear neuromotor patterns of cerebral palsy or resolve, as "transient dystonias." Cerebral palsy is associated with identified patterns of brain injury secondary to ischaemic or haemorrhagic lesions, perhaps modified by activation of inflammatory cytokines. Cerebral palsy rates have not fallen as might be expected over the past 10 years as survival has improved, perhaps because of increasing survival at low gestations, which is associated with the highest prevalence of cerebral palsy. Children who escape cerebral palsy are also at risk of motor impairments during the school years. The relationship of these impairments to perinatal factors or to neurological progress over the first postnatal year is debated. Neuromotor abnormalities are the most frequent of the "hidden disabilities" among ex-preterm children and are thus frequently associated with poorer cognitive ability and attention deficit disorders. Interventions to prevent cerebral palsy or to reduce these late disabilities in very preterm children are needed.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.