Infant Brain Development: From Conception to Age 3
Early development of the brain puts focus on the infants from the prenatal period to the age of three years. The present research indicates that the quality of the interactions children have as well as the experiences that they have determine these children’s emotional and social development as well as their intellectual development. The early years of a child are quite important in giving out prediction of the eventual child’s success in school and in life in general. According to Wiggins (2000), researchers have come to a consensus that the healthy development of the brain can be supported in three ways. One of the ways is having good prenatal care, the second one is ensuring “warm and loving attachments” between the infants and the adult people and the third one is ensuring “positive stimulation” beginning from the time the child is born.
At the time of birth, the brain of the baby has one hundred billion brain cells. A few of these cells are connected, like those cells that control involuntary reflexes such as sucking. These “cell or neuron connections” are build up through life experiences and having attachments with the adult people in the course of the child’s initial few years. The connections are referred to as “synapses”. While there is an increase in the number of connections made, the brain turns out to be a “complex network” formed by synapses. This is what is known as the “wiring of the brain” (Wiggins, 2000, 2).
For these connections to stay active and turn out to be permanent there must be strengthening of these connections through repetition. These experiences at the initial years of a child “interact with each child’s genetic make-up to determine not only how they think, but whether they become mentally retarded, sick, aggressive, or violent…intellectual, emotional, social and physical experiences are laid down on the trillions of connections between brain cells that make learning and memory possible” (Wiggins, 2004, pg. 2).
According to Wilkinson, at the time the baby is born, the brain, which is immature, has “uncommitted, immature connections, built in the main from the inside” (Wilkinson, 2004, pg. 88). The senses of a new born baby are filled with a large number of “tastes, textures, smells, sounds and sights” from the surrounding and also the sensations as well as feelings that come up from within.
While the brain of the baby offers response by developing more “neural connections” than will eventually be needed, there is taking place of a “neural pruning” while those cells that have no input die. This a point where it is said that “the use it or lose it” principle is in operation (Wilkinson, 2004, pg. 88). It is reported by Schore from a MRI scan study carried out in the recent times on infants that there is a rapid increase in the brain volume in the course of the first two years. It was further established that the children that are below two years of age exhibit higher right volume than the left volume. It was further established that that the “normal adult” appearance is seen at the age of two and that there is identifying of all the “major fiber tracts” at the time the infant is about three years old (Schore, 2002, p.11).
There exists a rising interest in the specific function of the brain’s right hemisphere in the process of human development. It is believed that the right hemisphere is preferentially engaged in the initial emotional experience of the baby as well as in maternal behavior. Wilkinson (2004),reports that a large number of mothers as well as higher primates “carry their infant with their left arm so that the infant’s head is against the mother’s left breast and the infant has more direct visual communication with the right hemisphere” (Sieratzki and Woll, 1996, pg.1746). A number of researchers carried out studies and concluded that the social attachment of a human being is specialized to the “right cerebral cortex (Sieratzki and Woll, 1996, Horton, 1995 and Henry 1993).
Another researcher, Devinsky, carries out a discussion about the right “hemisphere dominance” and draws a conclusion that “the right cerebral hemisphere dominates our awareness of physical and emotional self…and a primordial sense of self…in contrast to the linguistic consciousness of the left hemisphere” (Devinsky, 2000, pg. 69). It is suggested by Schore that “the primordial representations of the attachment are the building blocks and scaffolding of development” (Schore, 2002, pg 14). He also suggests that “the early forming right hemisphere stores an internal working model of the attachment relationship that determines the individual’s characteristic strategies of affect regulation for coping and survival” ” (Schore, 2002, pg 14). Schore further notes that having a secure attachment relationship enables the coming up of a “control system” in the cortex at the end of year two. The control system is the “orbito-frontal system” whose role is to regulate the interpersonal behavior as well as the social behavior (Schore, 2002).
The rising level of activity in the brain which is developing leads to the higher level of “synaptic complexity”. While each and every individual has different experience from the other, in a similar manner, there exist different connectivity patterns in each and every “brain-mind”. It is pointed out that the brain is composed of “brain cell connections” and it is an individual’s “personal configuration” of these that offers the individual his mind (Wilkinson, 2004).
Schore has been carrying out research and brought together his findings in regard to the effect of varied parenting experiences on early brain development. He draws a conclusion that “it is the interaction of constitutional predisposition and exposure to stressors in the early environment that leads to deficits in frontal lobe functioning” (Schore, 2002, pg. 16). He further points out that, in regard to the early years of life, “psychosocial neglect and the deprivation have been shown to be, along with the inevitable parental psychopathology that allows this to happen, the strongest predictors of such damage…the effects are three-fold: dysregulation of affect, impairment of attachment and impaired cognitive processing” (Schore, 2002, pg. 16). Schore presents an argument that there exist those mothers that have “rejecting behavior” that is not within their control and this behavior arises from the trauma they themselves went through during their childhood years. Schore offers an explanation that in the “infant-mother exchanges” that take place between dyads like those ones, “the infant is matching the rhythmic structures of the mother’s dysregulated states, and ……this synchronization is registered in the firing patterns of the stress-sensitive corticolimbic regions of the infant’s brain that are in a critical period of growth” (Schore, 2001, pg. 308).
The babies exhibit attraction for “face pattern” in the course of the first few minutes after they are born and this is a feature that is followed by the capability to have recognition of the face of the mother, occurring at around the age of two months (Morton and Johnson, 1991). According to Tzourio-Mazoyer et al, it was established that, after carrying out “PET scans of alert” of infants looking at faces of women who were not known, “cognitive development proceeds early in functionally active interconnected cortical areas despite the fact they have not all yet reached full maturation (Tzourio-Mazoyer et al, 2002, pg.454). These researchers draw a conclusion that as on one hand there is indication by the studies that have been carried out of the right hemisphere being dominant for recognizing faces all through life, on the other hand the infants who are two month of age tend to recruit what in the “left hemisphere” will in time turn out to be their “language network”. They present a proposal that “co-activation of the face and this future language network sustains the facilitative efforts of social interactions, such as looking at the mother’s face, on the language development” (Tzourio-Mazoyer et al, 2002, pg.460).
Basing on Schore description of the face of the mother, he refers to it as “the most potent visual stimulus in the child’s world” (Schore, 2002, pg. 18). The baby may recognize the feelings of terror or fear on the face of the mother and there will be mirroring of these feelings on the baby’s face, or in the other way round, it may be that the baby is the one who first portrays these feelings or emotions. In either way this might have come up, this kind of mother is not in a position to modulate the emotions she reads on the face of her baby and she in fact mirrors back the emotions.
Early experiences such as these ones are, as Schore points out, “burned in to the developing limbic and autonomic nervous systems of the early maturing right brain and lead to enduring structural changes that produce inefficient coping mechanisms” (Schore, 2002, pg. 9). A comment was made by Cozolino that what was referred to as defenses by Freud are ways in which “neural networks have organized in the face of difficulties” in the course of development (Cozolino, 2003, pg. 48).
Another researcher, Fordham, had the knowledge that the “self” do have defense systems that are set up in such a way that they can preserve “individual identity” and set up and retain the difference that exists between “self” and “not-self” (Fordham, 1976). He presented an argument that “if a baby is subjected to noxious stimuli of a pathogenic nature…a persistent over-reaction of the defence system may start to take place” (Fordham, 1976, pg. 91). There may now be knowledge about a process like this as being a process that offers description to the “neural pathways development” in the service of defending of the self.
In considering attachment, this is very important in the development of the brain, especially in the first three years of the child’s life. Attachment is defined by Wiggins as “the nature and quality of the relationship between an infant and a primary caregiver’ (Wiggins, 2000, pg. 3). This term moves hand in hand with the term boding. Bonding is defined as “the process of forming attachment” (Wiggins, 2000, pg. 3). One who is giving care to a young child can make the relationship with the child to be strong by carrying out such activities as “holding, rocking, singing, feeding, and kissing” among other nurturing behavioral activities (Wiggins, 2000).
There is a belief among scientists that the most significant factor in bringing about attachment is having “positive physical contact”(Perry, 1998). The young children that are held as well as touched and played with on a regular basis experience development of brains that are larger, having powerful connections between the cells of the brain unlike those children who are not.
Wiggins points out that the “I am your child campaign” has been a significant driving force for having education concerning early childhood “brain development” and the significance of the initial three years in the child’s life. There is publishing by the campaign of several quality materials that offer training to the mothers as well as the caregivers that puts focus on how important for them to offer care to the young children that is responsive and warm (Wiggins, 2000). .
When the young children receive this kind of care in the early years of their lives, there is a high likelihood that these children will experience a sense of safety and security with those who give care to them. Such powerful relationships are known what is known as “secure attachments”. Basing on the researches that were conducted in the recent times, it was established that, on top of the children thriving, resulting from a feeling of safety, these children are as well able to put up with hard and complicated situations with a lot of ease when they grow up and become adults. These young children that have safe and secure attachments do have much more curiosity and get along with their fellow children in a better way, and have better performance in schools as compared to those children that are less safely and securely attached (Wiggins, 2000, 3).
In conclusion, the first three years of the child’s life are very important in terms of brain development. It is at this stage that the child’s future can be determined; whether the child will grow in to a strong intelligent person who will be able to social with other people as well as perform better in school and succeed in life in general or not. During this time the child’s brain undergoes several developmental processes that are influenced in one way or the other. For instance, attachment is very important to the development of the young child. In a situation where a child has a high level of attachment to the mother or care giver, this child has higher chances of growing in to someone who will be successful, both in school and generally, in life. On the other, a child who lacks adequate attachment may feel insecure and unsafe and may not be able to deal with life’s situations effectively when the child grows up. Therefore, it is quite important for the parents as well as the care givers to have adequate knowledge on the best way of offering care to children in order to realize high level of attachment to facilitate effective child brain development.
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