Objective. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between somatosensory processing abilities of children at school age and their earlier experiences in the intensive care nursery as very low–birth weight (VLBW) infants.

Method. The subjects were 35 VLBW children at school age (20 girls, 15 boys) who were free of congenital deformity and developmentally appropriate for gestational age. The subjects were part of an ongoing longitudinal study. Birth weight, number of days supported by mechanical ventilation, and number of days in the neonatal intensive care unit were examined in relation to somatosensory functions. Somatosensory functions measured were manual form perception, kinesthesia, finger identification, graphesthesia, and localization of tactile stimuli.

Results. VLBW children were significantly different on all measures of somatosensory processing when compared with the standardization group.

Conclusion. Further research on the VLBW infant’s somatosensory functioning will add to the existing body of knowledge concerning development and guide practice. The finding that the infants in this study, who did not have therapy intervention, later presented diminished somatosensory functioning supports the need to develop measures of somatosensory development for use in assessments and treatment during all developmental phases.

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