TRI's Research on Executive Function in Babies Born Low Birth Weight Gains International Attention

TRI's Research on Executive Function in Babies Born Low Birth Weight Gains International Attention

January 19, 2016

By Carol Dennis

Child playing in a tub of balls

At the Zero to Three Conference in Seattle this past December, TRI's Patricia Blasco, Serra Acar, and Sybille Guy were delighted to see over 250 participants at their presentation, enthusiastically engaged with the speakers throughout, asking good questions and providing new ideas.

When the research project is your own, it's often hard to know how excited and engaged others will be. The participation at the Zero to Three conference took away any doubt that this work will be seen as making an important contribution in the field of early childhood development.

Click here to download the slides from the Zero to Three presentation.

Patricia Blasco, Ph.D.

TRI's Patricia Blasco, Ph.D., in collaboration with the Institute on Development and Disability at the Oregon Health & Sciences University, leads Project EF,  a cutting-edge research study that examines Executive Function (EF) in infants and toddlers born Low Birth Weight (LBW).

Project EF gaining international attention

After the successful presentation at the Zero to Three National Training Institute, the team of Drs. Blasco, Guy, and Acar continue to recruit babies, perform assessments, gather and analyze data, and still find time to share their findings with colleagues across the world.

Project EF is gaining national and international attention as the team from TRI has been invited to present the preliminary results at conferences across the country, and now at the upcoming Children’s Rights and Early Intervention Conference, International Society on Early Intervention, in Stockholm, Sweden.

On a roll with recruitment

baby in an incubator

"We are excited to say that we are on a roll with recruiting families of young children born low birth weight (LBW) and preterm and their full term peers," says Dr. Blasco." We now have 27 children born with LBW and 20 children who are in the full term control group."

The primary goal in Years 1 and 2 is to assess a sample of 100 children born LBW and preterm and 50 children who were full term. In Year 3, the children will be assessed on these measures and a measure of executive function.

Click here for information about recruitment

Understanding how EF components impact early learning

The study investigates the relationship between current measures of infant and toddler development and Executive Functioning. Executive Functioning refers to a wide range of central control processes in the brain that link and categorize information that is discernible in the cognitive, motor, and behavioral responses of young children (Diamond, 2006).

Close up of baay's face

"Our goal is to extrapolate early indicators of EF, thereby enabling clinicians and practitioners to intervene before age three in order to buffer or ameliorate later learning disabilities and difficulties," Blasco continues. "Understanding how EF components impact early learning will help align preventive strategies that can facilitate later learning and improve overall child outcomes."

Infants who were born LBW are seen in a clinical setting and participate in assessments that are part of their clinical visit in rooms that are family-friendly. Full term infants are seen in child care settings with similar surroundings. 

Data collection occurs three times during the study

Data collection occurs between 6-8 months (corrected for LBW group), 18-20 months (corrected for LBW group) and at age 3 years. These data included a demographic form with information on Early Intervention services for the LBW group.

Baby laying on stomach pushing itself up

In addition, children are administered the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development III (Bayley, 2005) and the Dimensions of Mastery Questionnaire (DMQ-18). The study will examine whether these traditional assessment methods that have components of EF in their structure can reveal early indicators of executive functioning.

Dr. Guy adds, "To date, preliminary results show that the LBW children score significantly lower than full term children on the DMQ-18 General Competence scale and the Bayley III scales of Expressive and Gross motor. As we increase the sample size of assessed children, we expect these differences to become more pronounced." 

A dream come true

“This is a dream come true for all of us,” Dr. Blasco continues. “I have been interested for many years in the development of children who are born early and the effects on brain development in terms of executive function. These findings will provide new scientific knowledge and a better understanding of EF skills and deficits in young children who are born LBW and preterm.”

Project EF Logo

In the coming months, the TRI Project EF team will present at the following conferences:

February 11-13 - The Conference on Research Innovations in Early Intervention (CRIEI) 2016 - San Diego, California

April 6-8 - Oregon HeadStart Specialist Conference - Redmond, OR

June 8-10 - Children’s Rights and Early Intervention Conference, International Society on Early Intervention - Stockholm, Sweden

If you find yourself at one of these conferences, please say hello to the Project EF team. They love talking about the study and sharing the results!

Click here to download the slides from the Zero to Three presentation.

For more information about Project EF, click here.

Or contact Patricia Blasco at -  Project EF 503-838-8495

OHSU IRB # 11290 - P.I.: Patricia M. Blasco, PhD

Project EF: Executive Function in Infants and Toddlers Born Low Birth Weight (LBW) and Preterm is funded for three years by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

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