I will had the wonderful opportunity to create awareness at the Poverty, Stress and the Brain Conference about the possible effects of poverty on the brain. I wanted to share with you a little about what was discussed.
As I’ve said many times before, brain research has demonstrated the enormous importance of the early years in determining a person's future success in learning and in life. It is now known that a child’s brain continues to develop long after birth. The term “brain development” means more than just intelligence building. It means the actual structural changes that take place in the brain.
The experiences a child has in the early years activate the actual physical connections between brain cells that make the brain grow—in other words, the brain's "wiring." We now understand that school readiness is based on this brain wiring, 90% of which takes place before age 5. This wiring develops best when a child is exposed to a variety of positive experiences, such as hearing rich language, having opportunities to develop relationships with caring people, and learning through exploration.
However, negative experiences such as inadequate nutrition, substance abuse, maternal depression, exposure to environmental toxins, high levels of stress, trauma and abuse, lack of time to play in green spaces, sleep deprivation, and poor quality daily care affect a disproportionate number of children in low-income families. While children in any economic status are vulnerable to these risk factors, children in poverty may often experience several negative factors simultaneously.
Continual exposure to stress, limited stimulation, poor nutrition, little predictability, and lack of nurturing relationships all lead to types of brain wiring that can contribute to emotional and learning problems. Our brains physically adapt very early to cope with the environment to which we are exposed, sometimes with harmful results. Because poverty can impede opportunity for children and is a primary contributor to many of these negative risk factors, poverty directly effects brain development.
We need to create a broader awareness of the effect that poverty can have on children and ensure that everyone understands how to make a positive impact using this knowledge. We must also make sure everyone knows how dangerous it is for us to ignore this information. All children should be given the opportunity to be successful and have a well-developed brain no matter what income level they are born into.
Next week, I will post more information about the Harlem Children’s Zone. This is a very effective program that is fighting the effects of poverty through understanding the importance of providing quality and comprehensive programs to children starting at birth.
If you know of a program that is fighting poverty and is making a positive impact on the brains of children, please share it with others by leaving a comment below.
We ALL benefit from ALL children with healthy brains!