InBrief: The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development


>>LEVITT: We know from research on the biology of stress
that negative impact of that during sensitive periods of
time that’s going to sculpt the architecture of the brain, can have effects on learning, behavior, and
physical and mental health. >>NELSON: What this is allowing us to say is that these
experiences that children come across that we provide them
with in those first three or four or five years, provides the scaffolding, doesn’t guarantee a perfect
life later on, but it, in a sense, is an insurance policy. Some experiences are more important early in life than
later in life, and, therefore, it argues for investing in
what happens in those first three to five years. >>LEVITT: So persistent stress changes the
brain’s architecture. Let me show you this. We know that there are changes
in the structure of the nerve cell that’s
responsible for communication, for the ability of children to respond in their world. This is a typical neuron sitting in the prefrontal cortex.
This is a neuron that after it undergoes chronic stress
during development, this is the way it ends up. So toxic stress results in architectural
changes of fewer connections. >>GUNNAR: It’s not only are they at risk for drug and
alcohol dependence, but other aspects of their biology. They are at risk for depression. Maybe nobody is surprised
by that. They are at risk for cardiovascular disease earlier. >>NELSON: It is not as if the die is cast and the door’s
slammed shut, but it will say to us, if you want to get this
kid back on a typical developmental trajectory, if you wait too late, it’s going to be like pushing open a
thousand-pound door instead of just having it swing open very
gently, which you can do with the right early experiences. The second is as we understand how experience affects the
brain, we’re in a better position to do two things: to identify
as early in life as possible, kids who are at risk for falling off a typical developmental trajectory;
and the second is to develop interventions that
target specific circuits in the brain. >>LEVITT: There is a critical period. There is a period of
time during which this profound neglect that they’ve experienced, right, requires an intervention and enrichment, and it has
to happen within a certain period of time in order for it
to have its most powerful effects. >>GUNNAR: The most important ingredient in positive
experiences for young children is the responsive adult,
or set of adults, that are there in the child’s life, who are helping to let that brain be excited about learning
and supporting that brain’s development. >>LEVITT: In addition to trying to focus on getting to
the most at-risk populations as soon as possible, and that
would be before birth, if I had to just focus on dealing with the situations after birth where
you have an infant or you have a toddler, that developing day
care systems where we rank them in terms of their quality, where we provide the resources to encourage them to hire the
very best staff; you can’t do it on the cheap. That if we start with those systems and generate systems of
excellence early, and apply those to the most at-risk individuals,
that’s where we’re going to get the biggest bang for the buck. >>NELSON: And that if we then continue to be
mindful of how experience writes on the brain, then we’re much more likely to have children who wind up
being successful, happy, productive citizens of society.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *