Infants born preterm have increased risk for learning disabilities yet we lack assessments to successfully detect these disabilities in early life. We followed 23 full-term and 29 preterm infants from birth through 24 months to assess for differences in and stability of learning abilities across time. Measures included the Bayley-III cognitive subscale, the mobile paradigm assessment, and a means-end learning assessment. Preterm infants had poorer performance on measures of cognition and learning across the first two years of life. Learning performance at 3-4 months was consistent with learning performance at 12-24 months of age. At 3-4 months, the mobile paradigm had better sensitivity and predictive values for predicting 24-month cognitive delays on the Bayley-III than did the Bayley-III itself. At 12-18 months, the means-end learning assessment had better sensitivity than the Bayley-III for identifying 24-month cognitive delays on the Bayley-III. The results suggest that: (1) infants born preterm may demonstrate learning differences as early as the first few months of life, (2) learning differences identified in the first months of life are likely to persist throughout the second year of life, and (3) learning assessments that measure how infants and toddlers use their typical behaviors to problem-solve to control external events may be more effective than traditional standardized assessment tools for detecting early learning delays.
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