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Early Relationships: The Key Ingredient of Brain Development

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Presentation on theme: "Early Relationships: The Key Ingredient of Brain Development"— Presentation transcript:

1 Early Relationships: The Key Ingredient of Brain Development
Presented by: Mary Ann Marchel, Ph D. University of Minnesota Duluth Unified Early Childhood Studies

2 Agenda: Monday AM 9:00-9:30 Introductions and Icebreaker
9:30-10-:30 Early Relationships: The Key Ingredient of Brain Development 10:30-Break 10:45-11:30 Autism 11:30-1:00 Make it Take It Part I 1:00-2:00 Lunch 2:00-4:00 Make it Take it Part II

3 A Bit About Our Purpose:
To create a safe learning environment that nourishes and promotes your thinking about “you” in the context of your relationships with children, families, and staff. As facilitators, we are committed to supporting creative and open exploration of relationship-based work as it applies to your setting. We hope to create a “holding” environment that furthers your journey in this important work. Take advantage of the “Wondering Wall”.

4 It’s all about the bricks and mortar:
Infant Mental Health as the “Context” for Robust Early Intervention Services.

5 The Hierarchy of Well-Being
Relationship Experiences Social Experience Sensory Input Food Shelter

6 What do we know about the relationship between early relationships and brain development?
Infants develop in the context of relationships Their brains develop neural connections in response to their experience The quality of the relationship between parent and child matters most, as they need experience with an effective “relational partner” in order for the parts to organize into a “self”

7 Key Ingredients: Emotions…
Emotions organize behavior……. and lay the foundation for sense of self (inner working model).

8 Key Ingredients: Social
Infants are biologically predisposed to interact with others. Originates with survival need. Harlow’s work with rhesus monkeys demonstrates the critical role of contact with others in development.

9 “There is no such thing as an infant…
“There is no such thing as an infant….If you set out to describe a baby you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship.” D.W. Winnicott, 1966

10 Ingredients: Relational
Relationships provide the framework and context in which behaviors are organized. The Still Face Procedure by Ed Tronick provides an example of the opportunities that exist in each interaction.

11 The Importance of Relationships
Relationship is the fuel that drives development, affecting basic capacities such as self-regulation, exploration and learning, identity, and interpersonal understanding The parent (relational partner) is the organizer of the child’s psychological experience Relationship can be stressed by internal and external factors

12 Relationships Effect virtually all aspects of development:
Intellectual Social Emotional Physical Behavioral Moral

13 Caregiver as Co regulator
Bidrectional Process Caregiver as Co regulator Baby as Interactor Caregiver, in turn provides the scaffolding to help promote the infant’s successful adaptation Infant regulates and refines care Giver’s behavior in the service of her Own adaptation (Sander, 1979; Vgotsky, 1987)

14 Taken together, these ingredients comprise the key components of
infant mental health. How do we as professionals who work with young children and their families Activate and nourish the growth of these ingredients to create robust programs? What are some key ingredients of Early Intervention programs?

15 Attachment Brain Development Parent-Child Relationship Intervention Skills Self-Awareness

16 An integrated understanding of attachment and how it affects development
An understanding of the attachment system and the relationship between security and exploration Can a child form different attachments to different people? How does attachment affect self-regulation, exploration, peer relationships?

17 An understanding of the importance of organized stimulation in the early years
An awareness of the role of relationship in brain development as well as the role of the environment An awareness of the effects of environmental stress on brain development

18 An understanding of the complex and long-lasting factors that affect the relationship between parent and child An understanding of the effects of the parent-child relationship on development An appreciation for the deeply PERSONAL history and convictions that every parent brings to parenting A sensitivity to the nuances of cultural and familial differences in parenting

19 Relationally-based intervention with parent and child
Skills of observation, regulation, reflection, translation Professional use of self: noticing, feeling, containing, assessing – learning to promote strengths by “being with” Helping parent learn new skills for self and child: think about, feel for, act on behalf of, derive pleasure from

20 A bit of basic information about brain development

21 Hardwired to Connect 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 the development of brain circuitry. Nurturing touch promotes growth and alertness in babies. Presence of a secure attachment protects toddlers from biochemical effects of stress. Field, 1986; 1995 Gunnar, 1989; 1996

22 In Infants and Toddlers
Brain Development In Infants and Toddlers Developed by Ronald J. Lally. © 2007, WestEd, The Program for Infant/Toddler Care. This document may be reproduced for educational purposes.

23 Intellect, Logic, Reasoning Taste
Motor Area Sensory area Intellect, Logic, Reasoning Taste Language Speech Hearing Vision Balance Emotional Regulation

24 Gene / Environment Interaction
Environments can influence genes as they release. Their intensity can either reduce or increase genetically based risks. The interactive dance between genes and environment is much more ongoing than once thought. Of course we know that genes set the stage for how we experience things but now we also know that environment influences the workings of genes and how they are expressed. Environment can influence intensity of release in ways not previously understood. 2. We don’t want to give the impression however that gene is not extremely powerful. The brain is formed basically by genetic code. Sometimes there are problems. Neurulation problems anencephaly (absence of 2 hemispheres of brain) spina bifida Cell Proliferation problems (bad cells created) Fetal alcohol syndrome Cell Migration problems schizencephaly - cortex is entirely missing agenesis of the corpus callosum (absence of it causes communication problems)

25 Following information taken from
The Program for Infant/Toddler Care (Ron Lally, 2007). West Ed. National Science Council on the Developing Child

26 Hierarchy of Brain Development
Abstract Thought Logic Reasoning Attachment Context Memory Sexual Behavior Emotion Reactivity Appetite/Satiety Blood Pressure Body Temperature Motor Regulation Balance Heart Rate Breathing FOREBRAIN Cortex “Executive Center” MIDBRAIN Limbic “Emotional Center” HINDBRAIN Cerebellum & Brainstem “Alarm Center”

27 Gene / Environment Interaction
Environments can influence genes as they release. Their intensity can either reduce or increase genetically based risks. The interactive dance between genes and environment is much more ongoing than once thought. Of course we know that genes set the stage for how we experience things but now we also know that environment influences the workings of genes and how they are expressed. Environment can influence intensity of release in ways not previously understood. 2. We don’t want to give the impression however that gene is not extremely powerful. The brain is formed basically by genetic code. Sometimes there are problems. Neurulation problems anencephaly (absence of 2 hemispheres of brain) spina bifida Cell Proliferation problems (bad cells created) Fetal alcohol syndrome Cell Migration problems schizencephaly - cortex is entirely missing agenesis of the corpus callosum (absence of it causes communication problems)

28 Brain Architecture is Built Over Time
Brain development progresses in a hierarchical, “bottom-up” sequence, with advanced skills built on more basic capabilities. As it develops, the quality of brain architecture establishes a sturdy or weak foundation for learning and behavior. Brain circuits consolidate with increasing age, making them more difficult to rewire. The timetable of brain plasticity varies: it is narrow for basic sensory abilities, wider for language, and broadest for cognitive and social-emotional skills. 1.

29 Brain Architecture is Built Over Time
Brain development progresses in a hierarchical, “bottom-up” sequence, with advanced skills built on more basic capabilities. As it develops, the quality of brain architecture establishes a sturdy or weak foundation for learning and behavior. Brain circuits consolidate with increasing age, making them more difficult to rewire. The timetable of brain plasticity varies: it is narrow for basic sensory abilities, wider for language, and broadest for cognitive and social-emotional skills. 1.

30 Early Risk Factors Birth & First Months Prenatal: Poor Nutrition
Delivery complications Neurological insult Exposure to toxins Difficult temperament/ hyperactivity/attention/ impulsivity problems Stress Parental depression Prenatal: Poor nutrition Pregnancy complications Alcohol Prescription, O-T-C, & illegal drugs Exposure to toxins Stress Parental depression

31 1. Years Decades Months Thompson, R. A., & Nelson, C. A. (2001). Developmental science and the media: Early brain development. American Psychologist, 56(1), 5-15.

32 Experience creates Expectation which alters Perception
1. The early experiences a child has, when they happen repeatedly, create the condition of expectation – because they happen so often we come to expect they will happen again and we come to look for them or sings of them. We then link the chronology and cause-and-effect of happenings with our total understanding of the event. So we come to see the beginnings of behaviors or precursors of behaviors as signs of the behaviors and use them to predict the experience. After a number of these predictions these links come to be used as evidence of the beginnings of behaviors or as part of the actual behaviors themselves. We in a sense come to see thisngs and react to things that sometimes are not really happening. 2. See “Early experience is associated with the development of categorical representations for facial expressions of emotion.” Seth Pollack & Doris Kistler PNAS June 25,2002,Vol. 99, #13.

33 “Culture influences every aspect of human development and is reflected in childrearing beliefs and practices designed to promote healthy adaptation.” Core Concept #2 “From Neurons to Neighborhoods” National Academy of Sciences, 2000 Culture is crucial in infancy to the formation of the first sense of self and the development of intellectual and social styles and patterns. The brain adapts to cultural expectation.

34 Understanding and Dealing with Stress
“Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain” Working Paper #3 Summer 2005, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. This paper contains a clear and accurate description of the affect of various types of stress on the developing brain. It contains very clear definitions TOXIC STRESS, TOLERABLE STRESS, & POSITIVE STRESS. It also points out what science supports and doesn’t support with regard to various claims about early experience and brain development. Image: © 1999 Scientific Learning Corporation

35 Prenatal Development The nervous system begins to develop just before the third week of gestation. Cell creation and movement to the right spots occur during the first five prenatal months. Brain Size: 25% at Birth; 90% Age 5 Talking Reasonably and Responsibly about Early Brain Development, University of Minnesota This image shows the growth of the brain in the prenatal period. The brain matures from the neck up with the brain stem at the base of the brain maturing first and the frontal lobes behind the forehead maturing last (around age 30 or later). The pattern is virtually universal among humans. However, brain development should be viewed as the interaction of biology and experience throughout the lifespan and not just what takes place in the earliest years. Talking Reasonably and Responsibly about Early Brain Development, University of Minnesota: (Eliot, 1999)

36 Positive Stress Refers to moderate, short-lived stress responses, such as brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in stress hormone levels. Learning to adjust to it is an essential feature of healthy development. Examples: meeting new people, getting an immunization, entering child care. Events that provoke positive stress tend to be those that a child can learn to control and manage well with the support of caring adults and which occur against the backdrop of generally safe, warm, and positive relationships. Positive stress refers to moderate short-lived stress responses such as brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in the body stress hormone levels. This kind of stress is a normal part of life, and learning to adjust to it is an essential feature of healthy development. Adverse events that provoke positive stress responses tend to be those that a child can learn to control and manage well with the support of caring adults, and which occur against the backdrop of generally safe, warm, and positive relationships. The challenge of meeting new people, dealing with frustration entering a new childcare setting, getting an immunization, and overcoming the fear of animals all can be seen as positive stressors if a child has the support needed to develop a sense of mastery. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain. (2005). Working Paper No. 3., Summer 2005.

37 Tolerable Stress Refers to stress responses that could disrupt brain architecture, but generally occur within a time-limited period and are buffered by supportive relationships that facilitate adaptive coping. These conditions usually give the brain an opportunity to recover from potentially damaging effects. Examples of stressors include death, a serious illness of a loved one, a frightening injury, divorce. Tolerable stress refers to stress responses that could affect brain architecture but generally occur for briefer periods that allow time for the brain to recover and therby reverse potentially harmful effects. In addition to their relative brevity one of the critical ingredients that make stressful events tolerable rather than toxic is the presence of supportive adults who create safe environments that help children learn to cope with and recover from major adverse experiences such as death or serious illness of a loved one, a frightening accident, or parental separation or divorce. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain. (2005). Working Paper No. 3., Summer 2005.

38 Toxic Stress Refers to strong and prolonged activation of the body’s stress management systems in the absence of the buffering protection of adult support, disrupts brain architecture and leads to stress management systems that respond at relatively lower thresholds, and increases the risk of stress-related physical and mental illness. Examples of stressors include extreme poverty, physical or emotional abuse, chronic and serious neglect, enduring maternal depression, family violence. Early, frequent, and intense stress tunes the brain to set stress regulation mechanisms at high levels. This often results in a child operating in a persisting fear state. Toxic stress refers to strong frequent or prolonged activation of the body stress management system. Stressful events that are chronic uncontrollable and/or experienced without the child having access to support from caring adults tend to provoke these types of toxic stress responses. Studies indicate that such stress responses can have adverse impact on brain architecture. In the extreme, such as in cases of severe chronic abuse, toxic stress may result in the development of a smaller brain. Less extreme exposure to toxic stress can change the stress system so that responds at lower thresholds to events that might not be stressful to others, thereby increasing the risk of stress related physical and mental and illness. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain. (2005). Working Paper No. 3., Summer 2005.

39 Tolerable and Toxic Stress
Alarm Relaxation Alarm, Alarm

40 Persistent Stress Changes Brain Architecture
Typical - neuron with many connections Normal Brain architecture is created by the formation of connections between neurons as a result of interactions with one’s environment, and then the pruning of connections that aren’t used. Neural connections in different areas of the brain are responsible for different kinds of activities. For example, the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus house activities related to memory and decision-making (executive function). As you can see from these depictions of neurons, brains subjected to chronic stress have underdeveloped connections in the areas of the brain most critical for success in school, work, and behavior. In contrast, the Amygdala is the area of the brain that governs our “fear response”. As you can see, in brains subjected to chronic stress, neurons have OVERdeveloped connections in this area -- which can result in exaggerated assessment of and response to fearful situations. Chronic stress Neuron damaged by toxic stress – fewer connections Prefrontal Cortex and Hippocampus Source: C. Nelson (2008) Bock et al Cer Cort 15:802 (2005)

41 Under Any Type of Perceived Threat
(physical, intellectual or emotional) The Brain: loses ability to take in subtle clues reverts to “tried & true” behaviors becomes more automatic & over-reactive is less able to use “higher order” thinking skills loses some memory capacity

42 The Body’s Response to Stress
Increase in heart rate Increase in blood pressure Increase in breathing rate Increase in muscle tone Release of stored sugar Hyper-vigilance Tuning out of all non-critical information

43 Chemicals in the Brain The capacity to deal with stress is controlled by a set of highly interrelated brain circuits and hormonal systems that are specifically designed to deal adaptively with environmental challenges. When an individual feels threatened, stress hormones are produced that convert the physical or emotional stress into chemical signals that are sent throughout the body as well as to the brain. “Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain” Working Paper #3 Summer 2005, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.

44 Cortisol Kills brain cells Reduces number of cell connections
Shrinks hippocampus Impairs selective attention Impairs thinking Creates anxious behavior

45 Noradrenalin: An Alarm Hormone
High levels trigger over-arousal and tendency toward impulsive, hot-blooded acts of violence.

46 Serotonin: An Impulse Modulator
Low levels = an adaptation to a threatening environment - impulsive, aggressive behavior Normal levels = clear thinking, social success

47 Small Group Questions:
How can child care programs help children cope with tolerable stress? How can child care programs avoid exposing infants to toxic stress while in care? How can your program support infants who are experiencing toxic stress outside the child care program?

48 Responsive Care Watch child’s cues for signs of interest
Ask what the child wants Adapt your behavior to child’s signals Bathe child in language Concern yourself with identity messages

49 Small Group Question: What has worked for you?
What do you think would be most important for infant care teachers and families with infants and toddlers to know about early brain development? What has worked for you? Please share with your group a successful strategy you have used to teach about brain development of infants and toddlers. Please write one statement about each.

50 Points to Remember There are learning windows but for humans most windows never close completely Synapse loss is a natural occurrence based on the pruning of seldom used connections Early emotional and social experiences are as important to the wiring of the brain as intellectual experiences Healthy early development depends on nurturing and dependable relationships Experiences create expectations which alter perceptions The early years matter because the interaction between early experience and gene expression shapes the maturing architecture of the brain The early years matter because the interaction between early experience and gene expression shapes the maturing architecture of the brain . The development of the brain incorporates experience, whether positive or negative, that shapes the brain’s capacities


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