Around 240 million children worldwide are living with these types of disorders

Researchers from the Universities of York, Leeds and Leicester have revealed that developmental disorders are more likely to occur in children born early in comparison to children born at full term.

The new study was funded and supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Developmental disorders affect physical, cognitive, language or behavioural development throughout a person’s lifetime, including vision and mental abilities such as learning.

Based on parent-reported evidence, around 240 million children worldwide are living with developmental disabilities such as cognitive impairment, ADHD and cerebral palsy.

After examining data from over eight million children across more than 75 global studies, researchers found that 7% of babies in the UK are born moderately early each year.

Additionally, even when born between the weeks of 37 and 38, researchers found that there was still evidence of a small increase in the risk of several developmental disorders emerging.

The study found that language delay affected 222 per 1,000 children born between 32 and 36 weeks; the risk of cerebral palsy was 14 times higher for infants born at 32 to 33 weeks; and for children born between 32 and 38 weeks, persistent difficulties occurred throughout their childhood.

Lead author Dr Katherine Pettinger, department of health sciences, University of York, said: “Babies born… early have different brain maturation to full-term children and,…between 32 and 38 weeks, gestation may disrupt [the] evolution of neural connections, potentially contributing to developmental disorder.”

Currently, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recommends children born before 30 weeks should be monitored up to two years of age.

However, between 32 and 38 weeks, infants will not show any signs of developmental disorders and multiple routine health appointments would cause a strain on the NHS.

Pettinger added that “further research is now needed to look at large-scale population studies to explore how incidents of developmental disorders relate to gestational age and see if the patterns we observed in the present study are replicated”.