Revealing preterm behaviour

26 July 2011

Recent findings from the Canterbury Child Development Research Group are revealing new information on the emotional and behavioural adjustment of children born very preterm (VPT) or at less than 32 weeks gestation.

Revealing preterm behaviour - Imported from Legacy News system

UC doctoral student Samudragupta Bora.

Recent findings from the Canterbury Child Development Research Group are revealing new information on the emotional and behavioural adjustment of children born very preterm (VPT) or at less than 32 weeks gestation.

Lead author, International Doctoral Scholar, Samudragupta (Sam) Bora and his supervisors, Professor Lianne Woodward and Dr Verena Pritchard from the Psychology Department, have recently had their latest research published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Their study showed that by age six children born very preterm (less than 33 weeks) are at an increased risk of emotional and attentional problems when compared with their full term peers. However, importantly their findings suggest that these risks may be lower than previous studies have tended to suggest.

Studies to date have primarily relied on parents to provide information about their children’s wellbeing said Sam.

“While parents are an important source of information about their child, it is also important to gather information from other significant people in the child’s life such as their classroom teacher.

“Having a baby born prematurely is an extremely stressful experience for parents. During their baby’s stay in the neonatal unit most parents will have been alerted to the possibility of their child developing problems such as behavioural difficulties, in the future due to being born too early. Therefore, very understandably, many parents of these children are very sensitive to the possibility of developmental problems,” he said.

Sam, Professor Woodward and Dr Pritchard, along with fellow researchers Dr Nicola Austin (Christchurch Women’s Hospital) and Dr Stephanie Moor (University of Otago), found that parents reported higher rates of emotional and attentional problems in their children than teachers did.

“Our study showed that the rates of child emotional and behavioural adjustment difficulties vary considerably depending on the source of information/context assessed, so the use of multiple informants - parents, teachers and clinical observation - to assess VPT children’s well-being is important to minimise the effects of report source bias and the over or under-identification of adjustment problems in children born VPT,” said Sam.

“This is controversial because it shows that reliance on parents or teachers alone can lead to data validity issues.”

One of the positive points in the research is that although children born VPT are at higher risk of showing emotional and attentional problems, the risks of more severe pervasive problems are relatively modest,” said Sam.

For Sam having his doctoral research published in such a widely read clinical journal has been very exciting. This work has also attracted a number of international awards for Sam, including a best poster prize at the joint Hong Kong and Royal College of Psychiatrists meeting, and a travel award from the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand to present his work in the US.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and how it works, so I’ve always known that this is the type of research I want to do. I enjoy it and it’s very rewarding. It is really great to been given these opportunities here at Canterbury and to work within such a great team”

Sam is also preparing another aspect of his research for publication which looks  at the associations between neonatal cerebral tissue volumes and persistent attentional problems from age 4 to 9 years in children born VPT. He hopes to hand in his completed PhD thesis early next year.


For more information please contact:
Jane Lucas
Communications Officer
University of Canterbury


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