Background and objective: Preterm-born children (<37 weeks' gestation) have higher rates of language function problems compared with term-born children. It is unknown whether these problems decrease, deteriorate, or remain stable over time. The goal of this research was to determine the developmental course of language functions in preterm-born children from 3 to 12 years of age.
Methods: Computerized databases Embase, PubMed, Web of Knowledge, and PsycInfo were searched for studies published between January 1995 and March 2011 reporting language functions in preterm-born children. Outcome measures were simple language function assessed by using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and complex language function assessed by using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals. Pooled effect sizes (in terms of Cohen's d) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for simple and complex language functions were calculated by using random-effects models. Meta-regression was conducted with mean difference of effect size as the outcome variable and assessment age as the explanatory variable.
Results: Preterm-born children scored significantly lower compared with term-born children on simple (d = -0.45 [95% CI: -0.59 to -0.30]; P < .001) and on complex (d = -0.62 [95% CI: -0.82 to -0.43]; P < .001) language function tests, even in the absence of major disabilities and independent of social economic status. For complex language function (but not for simple language function), group differences between preterm- and term-born children increased significantly from 3 to 12 years of age (slope = -0.05; P = .03).
Conclusions: While growing up, preterm-born children have increasing difficulties with complex language function.