For any infant, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT AHEAD OF TIME THE LIKELIHOOD OF A SIGNIFICANT HANDICAP (moderate or severe mental retardation, inability to walk without assistance, blindness or deafness). However, some factors increase the RISK of these handicaps:
Extreme prematurity, especially infants of 23-24 weeks of gestation at birth. At these gestations the risk is about 50%. As gestational age increases, the chances of being normal or nearly normal increases dramatically and is similar to the chances for survival. This means if survival is 80%, then about 80% of those who survive are free of major disability. Thus, with a 80% survival, 20% will die, about 64% will be healthy and 16% will have major disabilities.
Babies who have been the sickest and/or remained sick for long periods of time (several weeks).
Most children with a significant disabilities enjoy life and are a source of pleasure to their parents.
Minor disabilities occur in about 15% of children born on time. They occur more often in premature infants, about half of infants weighing less than 3 1/2 pounds at birth. Many of these are not appreciated until school age. Common minor disabilities include short attention span; specific learning problems in school such as difficulty with math or reading; poorer than average coordination, especially for games requiring eye-hand coordination like hitting a ball; and needing glasses at an early age. Children with minor disabilities usually lead normal lives. Early identification of these problems helps make learning easier.