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Early Adversity
November 23, 2011

If you don't go far enough back in memory or far enough ahead in hope, your future will be impoverished.
-Ed Lindeman

"Significant adversity early in life can damage the architecture of the developing brain and increase the likelihood of significant mental health problems that may emerge either early or years later."  This is a finding in Harvard's Center of the Developing Child working paper, "Mental Health Problems in Early Childhood Can Impair Learning and Behavior for Life."  The report continues....

"Life circumstances associated with family stress, such as persistence of poverty, threatening neighborhoods, and very poor child care conditions, elevate the risk of serious mental health problems and undermine healthy functioning in the early years.  Early childhood adversity of this kind also increases the risk of adult health and mental health problems because of its enduring effects on the body and brain development.  Young children who experience recurrent abuse or chronic neglect, regularly witness domestic violence, or live in homes permeated by parental mental health or substance abuse problems are particularly vulnerable....

"All of these situations are stressful for children.  Persistent activation of biological stress response systems leads to abnormal levels of stress hormones that have the capacity to damage brain architecture if they do not normalize.  In the absence of buffering protection of supportive relationships, these hormone levels can remain out of balance.  Known as toxic stress, this condition literally interferes with developing brain circuits, and poses a serious threat to young children, not only because it undermines their emotional well-being, but also because it can impair a wider range of developmental outcomes including early learning, exploration and curiosity, school readiness, and later school achievement."

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Displaying 1 Comment
Karen Nemeth
Language Castle LLC
Newtown, PA, United States
11/23/2011 09:41 am

These findings about the damage that can be done to young brains that are living in stressful conditions make me worry even more about children from immigrant families who may be experiencing high poverty rates, compounded by isolation and lack of access to services that could help. And - think about those over-stressed little kids who appear in preschool, desperately needing that supportive relationship that will help their brains cope with the negative environments, yet they find themselves in a setting where no one speaks their language or understands what they say. Another wake up call to the language crisis in early care and education!

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