BACKGROUND: Children born preterm are at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, there is still a lack of appropriate developmental markers. In this study, we aim to examine whether early mental performance trajectory is related to ASD outcome in the preterm population. METHODS: The population-based cohort included 414 very preterm survivors born between 2008 and 2014. After excluding children with severe neurosensory impairment, 319 children with available records of developmental quotients before age 2 years were enrolled. The trajectory of mental performance evaluated by using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development across 6, 12, and 24 months of age was analyzed with group-based trajectory modeling. At 5 years of age, the ASD diagnosis was established by using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised. RESULTS: There were 29 children with ASD and 290 children without ASD. The mental performances from age 6 to 24 months could be classified into 3 trajectory patterns: low declining, high declining, and high stable, which corresponded to ASD prevalence at age 5 years of 35%, 9%, and 3%, respectively. ASD odds was 15 times higher in the low-declining group than in the high-stable group (odds ratio 15; 95% confidence interval 3.8–59; P, .001). Through the analysis of multinomial logistic regression, we found that male infants with longer exposure to oxygen therapy whose mothers had lower maternal education levels tended to follow the low-declining trajectory. CONCLUSIONS: The early-life mental trajectory patterns, by using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, may lead to identification of vulnerable children born preterm for early ASD diagnosis and targeted intervention.
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