Certain medical complications increase the likelihood of a child having developmental difficulties. That is, a child with one or more of these medical complications is more likely to have some developmental difficulty than children without medical complications. When a child’s chances of developing any problem are increased, the child is said to be at higher "risk" for this problem. Children are identified as being at "high-risk" for developmental difficulties if they experience problems before, during, or after birth that are known to be associated with later difficulties in development.
Extreme prematurity and very low birthweight are known to be associated with developmental problems. Developmental problems may be temporary delays or impairments associated with illness or environmental conditions, or they may be indications of long term developmental conditions. We know that roughly 15 - 40% (depending on how the group is selected and what kind of problems are considered) of extremely premature infants will have significant, long-term medical and/or developmental problems. It may be impossible to determine in early infancy whether a particular child will be one who will develop problems, and initially it may be difficult to determine whether any emerging difficulties are temporary concerns or symptoms of long-term conditions.
Most prematurely born infants will eventually develop beyond any negative consequences associated with prematurity. Close attention to developmental needs during infancy and early childhood can help ameliorate any long-term impact of the temporary developmental problems many preemies experience. For those children who develop long-term conditions as a result of early medical complications, immediate identification and intervention for emerging impairments can reduce the eventual level of disability and in some cases prevent impairments from becoming handicapping as the child matures.