George will finish his lectures at Antioch University tomorrow. These classes were for Early Education Endorsement for teachers in special education. Part of George's job as a child development specialist is to evaluate special ed teachers in the classroom, and to provide feedback and counseling services to clients and their families.
Early brain development - even neo-natal - has enormous implications for social and emotional development. Research has indicated that two things are predominent:
If a child is raised in an environment that is abusive or neglectful, the child's brain actually "grows itself" to hardwire adaptations to this environment. The focus is on survival, and the child does not know how to deal with nurturing and kindness. The child's brain has adapted to an unpredictaable and dangerous world.
Second, the level of "attachment" (to parents, caregiver) , determines how their brain will grow. If that attachment is positive, the child develops healthy emotional, social, and cognitive skill. But, if the attachment to parents and caregivers is harsh and inconsistant, the child will not attach effectively, and this will show up later in social-learning disorders and problematic behaviors involving self-regulation and communication.
Mechanisms by which we become and stay attached to others are biologically primed and increasingly discernable in the basic structure of the brain. Nurturing environments, or the lack of them, affect gene transcription and the development of brain circuitry.
The conclusive presentation that George will present tomorrow will be that we have to move from special programs for "at risk" children to recognizing broad societal conditions that are contributing to growing numbers of suffering children. Neuroscientists, doctors, and social scientists are all indicating a rising rate of mental/emotional distress among U.S. children - as indicated by a 300% increase for psychotropic medication for 2 to 4 year olds in just the past five years.
Positive nurturance and consistant, careful parenting provide the basis for close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual frameworks provide solid patterns of thought and behavior. These give kids a running start in a changing, difficult world.