Research Corner: Sensory Processing Disorders and Former Preterms

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis conducted a study to describe the incidence of sensory processing disorder in former preterm infants at age 4-6 years. They also sought to define medical and socioeconomic factors associated with sensory processing disorder and examine relationships between neurobehavior at term and later sensory processing disorder. The study enrolled thirty-two preterm infants born <30 weeks and conducted neurobehavioral assessment using the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) at term equivalent age, and the Sensory Processing Assessment for Young Children (SPA) at 4-6 years of age.

In this sample, 50% of children presented with a sensory processing disorder at age 4-6 years based on SPA scores. Additionally, the study did not identify any association between sensory processing disorder and medical and socioeconomic factors including gestational age at birth, sex, cerebral injury, presence of NEC or PDA, amount of respiratory support, days on TPN, surgeries, race, type of insurance, maternal age at birth, and maternal marital status. They did, however, find that more sub-optimal reflexes, and more signs of stress on the NNNS at term equivalent age was associated with having a sensory processing disorder at age 4-6 years.

The authors discuss the role of the NICU environment on the developing sensory system of the preterm infant, noting that sensory development begins in utero, but must continue to develop in the NICU, where their sensory systems can be bombarded with stimuli for which they are not developmentally prepared. They also note “it is unclear whether these early markers are indicative of the impairment that followed, or if the early impairment identified on the neurobehavioral exam resulted in altered sensory experiences, leading to subsequent sensory processing disorder.” This study demonstrates that standardized neurobehavioral testing can help identify those infants most at risk for sensory processing disorder in childhood.

Ryckman, J., Hilton, C., Rogers, C., & Pineda, R. (2017). Sensory processing disorder in preterm infants during early childhood and relationships to early neurobehavior. Early Human Development, 113, 18-22.


The Early Feeding Skills Assessment Tool (EFS) now available

I am pleased to announce that through my collaboration with Suzanne Thoyre, RN, PhD The Early Feeding Skills Assessment Tool (EFS) is now available for download and use with you babies in the NICU and through adjusted age 6 months.

The EFS is a tool to help us:

The EFS has evolved over the years as a wonderful guide to cue-based feeding in the NICU. I especially am proud of it because it looks at feeding from the infant’s perspective and is grounded in physiology. It reflects how I conceptualize feeding in the NICU, which I refer to as “infant-guided”, i.e., a dynamic approach based on contingent co-regulation between infant and caregiver. That maybe a parent/family member, a nurse, or a therapist.

The tool is also based on dynamic systems theory (that multiple systems synergistically affect each other during feeding) and these systems are assessed dynamically throughout an entire feeding, to arrive at a gestalt. Capturing variability across the entire feeding is a critical part of the analysis/integration of information. The items are designed to capture the variability in the infant’s learning of the foundational components of feeding skills, the continuum of that learning, and the emergence of skills; so it assesses  whether component skills are not observed, are emerging, or are indeed consistently expressed. It is often used serially to capture developmental progress in feeding over time.

The EFS leads the caregiver, by the nature of how it is designed, to the interventions that naturally flow from the results of the assessment. It profiles interventions to support adaptive function during feeding and swallowing, and therefore interventions for safety.

The EFS is user friendly in that it is not focused on understanding and identifying only isolated oral-motor components but rather making sense of what all caregivers “see” every day when they feed preterm infants–the infant’s communication/cues during feeding. It provides a common language about feeding terminology (such as what do we mean by an infant is “pacing” himself, or what is “coordinated”, for example) to help all team members, including families, get on the same page, so conversations and report have common meaning. Psychometrics have been completed and published soon.

Join us in Atlanta on August 15-16, 2018 for a live learning event on utilizing the EFS in support of Cue-Based Feeding in the NICU. Stay tuned for details on my website soon!

Use this link to register and download the EFS