Healthwatch: Catching Up

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Eleven-year-old Tyler Fitzgerald is being tested on his verbal skills. Tyler weighed just over two pounds at birth, and used to really struggle in school.

Tyler is a quadruplet. His brothers and sister each weighed between two and three pounds at birth.

"They all seemed to do well right in the beginning, so I did not have that fear that they weren't going to live," said Andree Fitzgerald, mother of the quadruplets. "My bigger fear was, how they were going to develop as they grew older."

Up to half of very low birth weight babies have disabilities in the first several years of life. But some parents thought their kids were getting smarter. So researchers at the medical schools at Yale and Brown universities, and at Maine Medical Center, decided to study this issue.

They followed about 300 very low birth weight babies, including Tyler and his sister, from birth through age eight, testing them regularly.

"We're looking at IQ testing. We're looking at tests of verbal function, how well the children do on reading and tests of vocabulary and other verbal tests," said Dr. Laura Ment of the Yale University School of Medicine. "We're looking at achievement tests."

The researchers' startling findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They found that many children who had tested borderline retarded or retarded at age three tested much higher at age eight.

"At age eight years we found 66 percent of the children who had been in the borderline range were now in the normal range and 49 percent of the children who had been in the mentally retarded range, or IQs less than 70, were no longer mentally retarded," Dr. Ment said.

Tyler's mom says all her kids are doing great in school.

"I find them just growing by leaps and bounds in school," said Fitzgerald. "It just seems to be getting easier and easier for them."