Preemies as Genius

Now for some fun. When he’s at the point where he’s held, fed, contented and you sit with him on your lap, position him so he can see the ceiling and watch his eyes…  you can tell what he’s thinking.  Preemies, more so than normal newborns, are very alert and problem solve. (newborns are not that alert until about 4 months. This is because all the while these NICU events have been going on the preemie has been figuring them out.)  The artist’s foundation of IQ is pre-cognition, finding the problem and then solving it and, applying this theory to everything in life, these preemies become masters at it at about 26 weeks. I have hundreds of stories.

While watching hundreds of babies during thousands of feedings over 20 years in NICUs, I’ve come to believe that we are all born genius and what happens to us from birth on determines if it’s supported and nurtured or harmed.

Preemies and newborns focus on straight lines. Watching their eyes as they look at a large square black and white checkerboard you see that they are doing two things, they trace the outline of the shape and then compare one to the other. Always in that order. Then they recognize perspective. If you place the grid so one edge is in their direct vision, they will see the perspective and begin to compare only the closest and furthest. You will also see that their attention span is very long. I would time them and the range was from 18 to 26 minutes.

Our NICU ceiling was about 10 feet above the baby in my arms and it was made of white acoustic tiles set into a white metal framework. After the first intense minutes of sucking, he began tracing the shape of the closest, then the one next to it and kept going… learning that they were smaller each time and continuing to the point they would arch their backs to see further down the line. Then they would compare the very smallest to the one above their head, recognizing perspective White on white, ten feet away. (the warm-nummy theory in America about how life works is that the baby can only see as far as the mother’s face. What nonsense.) The edge of our NICU had a narrow ridge of lights behind white louvers extending 40 feet and with this they saw a bold example of perspective. So their vision extended to at least 40 feet.

Eventually I began to wonder about the socio-economic standing of the family and learned that this brilliance included all babies who were not drug effected.

When you take him home, videotape him as he examines his surroundings. The living room for example. Then watch him every time you bring him into that room. He will reexamine it all, again and again until he knows it all. Then sit in a different place in the room and watch what he does.

Play Mind to Mind Games With Your Preemie

Preemies and infants are bored.  Forget the American adult  bias that infants are blank slates.  They are thinking and problem solving, just as we all do, with all the assessment skills and conclusions we have and probably more because theirs is pure and without the influence, fear and worry acquired during childhood.

You can play silent mind games with them and see that this is true.

The first time I posted this design on the outside of the isolette of a baby who was 2 weeks old and now 29 weeks gestation.  She was not supposed to be born for almost 3 months.  I watched  as her eyes outlined each side and compared it to the other, again and again, over and over.  She would just keep doing it and I had to feed the next baby so I began to time her.  Twenty three minutes.

Then after a few days of this, when she was asleep, I rotated the card 1/3 of a turn and stood, waiting for her to wake up.  She opened her eyes, looked at it, frowned, cocked her head, straightened her head, pulled her neck back, pushed her face closer…  the classic ‘double-take’ sequence.  She had immediately identified the problem, checked her facts, verified what she was seeing and accepted it.  She weighed less than 3 pounds.

So I did this for at least a hundred babies over the years.  Stable feeder /grower babies, all with the same results.  The attention span time was from  18 to 26  minutes.

We are all born genius.

Visual Stimulation Cards for Preemies and Infants

All babies, but preemies especially, are inveterate problem solvers and they are bored. Watching the movement of their eyes, gives clues and strong understanding to what their brains are doing as, at first, they seek out bold and well defined shapes. They outline the shape and then begin to compare it’s parts. Within this framework, you can invent games to interest and challenge them.

The second 2 cards, part of the Ross set, were designed by a pediatrician, Dr. julio C. Guerra, and provide preemies with hours of fascination. Watch as the baby outlines each part of the round design and then compares it to the reversed color. Then, when the baby is asleep, turn the card so it’s now slanted and watch his eyes when he wakes and first sees it. We are all born with the same facial expressions and these babies do the classic ‘double take’, frowning, tilting the head, chin out to get closer… Watching hundreds of preemies, (some not supposed to be born for another 3 months). I began to time their concentration and was astonished to find it lasting from 12 to 28 minutes.

Make up your own games with these cards but keep them as simple as you can. Get colored stickers of dots and, while the baby is asleep, put one on the checkerboard card. Later, add another colored dot partially covering the first. Then watch.

It’s important that the cards be positioned straight up and down. Tipping them or turning them to the side will add the element of perspective which would change the experience.

The third and fourth cards below are part of a pack that Ross Labs, makers of Enfamil formulas gave to NICUs long ago. These cards were a huge gift to the  babies, A HUGE GIFT  but were discontinued for some reason.  

Please write to Ross Labs to reinstate their pack of cards, preemies need their intellectual stimulation. They were the very best and should be easily available for all babies.

Why are preemies problem solvers to a greater degree than full term newborns? It’s because they quickly become super alert survivors in extremely complex, annoying and stressful circumstances, and act in their own best interest like all of us, going toward pleasure and away from pain. The full term baby is comforted with basic needs met and soft human connections made and never has to develop skills to mitigate stress.

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© Brie Widmeyer, CCRN

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Open fullsize and print

© Julio C. Gurrea, MD