Background Sensory experience is the basis for learning in infancy. In older children, abnormal sensory reactivity is associated with behavioural and developmental disorders. We hypothesised that in preterm infants, abnormal sensory reactivity during infancy would be associated with perinatal characteristics and correlate with 2-year neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Methods We conducted a prospective observational study of infants with birth weight ≤1500 g using the Test of Sensory Function in Infants (TSFI) in the first year. Infants with gestational age ≤30 weeks were tested with the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development III (BSID III) at 24 months.
Results Of the 72 participants evaluated at 4–12 months corrected age (median 8 months), 59 (82%) had a least one TSFI score concerning for abnormal sensory reactivity. Lower gestational age was associated with abnormal reactivity to deep pressure and vestibular stimulation (p<0.001). Poor ocular-motor control predicted worse cognitive and motor scores in early childhood (OR 16.7; p=0.004), but was tightly correlated to the presence of severe white matter injury. Poor adaptive motor function in response to tactile stimuli predicted worse BSID III motor (p=0.01) and language scores (p=0.04) at 2 years, even after adjusting for confounders.
Conclusions Abnormal sensory reactivity is common in preterm infants; is associated with immaturity at birth, severe white matter injury and lower primary caregiver education; and predicts neurodevelopmental delays. Early identification of abnormal sensory reactivity of very preterm infants may promote parental support and education and may facilitate improved neurodevelopment.
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