What Is the Main Idea?

Children born prematurely are more likely to have problems with their development than those born after a typical length pregnancy. In general, this is because they are born before their body has finished growing and getting ready for the outside world, but also because the life-saving medical treatment they receive can have side effects. Some examples of problems are the development of the eyes and vision, the development of learning abilities, and the development of movement skills. In the open-access research article entitled “Impact of Retinopathy of Prematurity on Visual Motor Integration”, published in the journal Neonatology, the connection between an eye problem (retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)) and the coordination of vision and movement (visual motor integration (VMI)) was investigated.

What Else Can You Learn?

You can learn about the role of visual motor integration in children’s life skills development. You can find out what a standardized test is.

What Is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)?

ROP is an eye problem for babies born prematurely. The blood vessels in the eye grow abnormally. Across the world, about 32,300 children have vision problems as a result of ROP. Since more and more children are surviving premature birth, ROP is also increasing. There are different stages of ROP. Sometimes it can get fully better, but sometimes it can cause vision problems or complete blindness.

What Is Visual Motor Integration (VMI)?

VMI is the combined ability of seeing and processing visual information and then coordinating a movement. For example:

  • writing and drawing (seeing a letter, moving the pencil to write the correct shape);
  • kicking a ball (seeing a ball coming towards you, moving the foot to kick it);
  • tying shoelaces (seeing the lace position, moving the fingers to tie the knot).

Is There a Connection between Learning Ability and VMI?

Developing VMI skills is an important everyday task for children as they grow up. It is a separate skill to cognitive (learning) ability. In this paper, the authors explain that some prematurely-born children with normal learning ability can have poor VMI, and it is the poor VMI that causes them to struggle at school and home, not poor cognitive ability. However, children with learning difficulty will also have VMI difficulties. To help children do their best when they start school, it is important to know what problems to look out for.

What Did the Article Investigate?

The main aim of the study was to investigate how different stages of ROP (mild to severe) might affect a child’s VMI ability when they start school (age 5).

The authors tested 353 children aged 5 years old, who had been born prematurely. Firstly they read their medical notes to find out about whether they had ROP (137 children), and if so, the stage. Then, they tested the children’s VMI skills using standardized tests. They then compared the standardized test results against the ROP information.

What Is a Standardized Test?

Standardized means that the test has been carried out on many children of different ages with all of their results compared using statistical and mathematical methods. This then makes it possible to work out what is “normal” or typical, or what is low or high ability for a child at any age. To test VMI, the researchers used a test called the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration (Beery VMI).

What Were the Results?

The authors worked out that children with ROP had lower VMI abilities than those who did not have ROP. (In fact, the children without ROP had almost normal VMI scores.) They also noted that children with a more severe stage of ROP had much worse VMI ability than those with mild ROP.

The researchers note that, because ROP is a problem that affects the smallest and sickest of babies, it is difficult to understand how much the children’s VMI difficulties can be directly connected to their ROP problems. In other words, due to being so premature and ill, the children’s brains will be affected in multiple and complex ways. This will affect their VMI skills alongside other parts of their development. However, the researchers did use statistical methods to try and account for these factors.

Take-Home Message

Children who have ROP have lower VMI skills than those who do not have ROP. This means that those with ROP should have special assessment and support when they start school, to give them the best chance to develop school and life skills. The researchers also recommend more research in this area, especially testing children with ROP as they grow up and progress through school.

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