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Early brain development

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Published the 8/25/2021

Every parent worthy of the title wishes for their child to do better, to be better, and achieve the things they themselves couldn't. There are several things to take into account while striving for their better future (apart from projecting parents' dreams onto the next generation), that can be beneficial to the early brain development and nurturing better, more cognizant human beings.



A pyramid scheme

As soon as we are born, our brain, still a mess of loosely connected neurons who don't know where to focus their attention, has the enormous responsibility of sorting, deciphering and connecting stimuli from the outside world into a cohesive meaning. Although the fundamental senses have been linked to appropriate neurons, higher functions still lag behind the newly discovered flood of senses. Touch in lips and cheeks develops first, 8 weeks into pregnancy, with other parts of the body acquiring it by the week 14. Taste develops by week 12 and sound by week 24. It is important for the newborn to have fully developed taste and touch in the mouth area because it must be able to recognize and ingest food in the form of breast milk.

Higher level processes are built on foundations of lower level ones; hearing is a great example. It is an intermediate step that lasts (hopefully) a lifetime, but it is at the same time crucial for development of several others. Language and coordination are both built on top of hearing, which in term, is built on top of ear development. If damage occurs at any point in this hierarchical process, later development will be affected, depending on the timing and severity of the damage.
Damaged processes in the early onset of their development will usually have a more widespread, but potentially milder deformities, whereas the later ones will have focused, but more prominent ones. Underdevelopment of the ears in early embryonal development will be compensated to a degree and have an impact on both hearing, language perception and coordination, whereas hearing loss in later development will only have an impact on - well - hearing, but drastically more profound one.


Early bird gets the worm

Even higher level functions, such as cognition, emotional, social and intelligence quotients are built on top of early senses. It is therefore important to stimulate them accordingly. Starting in the first several months after birth, touch, and hearing develop exponentially. It is beneficial to explore them together with the child, through introduction of different textures, materials and composition for touch, and different natural noises, including music, for hearing. Sight develops naturally as our primary sense, but we can help there as well. Changes in natural scenery stimulate its development greatly.




Picture 1: Optimal times to learn different skills and habits.




The cherry on top

As the crown achievement of all sensual experiences and mental fortitude, humans developed cognition. The development of reason to an unparalleled degree throughout whole evolution is still a mystery, but can be seen as the synesthesia of all sensory inputs, be they obvious or hidden, plus the experience of learning and acquiring causation.

Childrens' brains have innate plasticity to mold and store vast amounts of information, to a degree no adult brain can. They can also learn and, more importantly, re-learn much easier than adults. If left unguided, plasticity deteriorates with time, but several studies have shown that this process can be prolonged and enhanced well into adulthood if only directed properly. On the other hand, if it suffers from negative influence, it gives rise to adults who have difficulty functioning in the society.

An increasing number of studies explored the early human development in children subjected to negative influences, such as pain, abuse (both verbal and physical), neglect and others. Those children much often grow up to become ill-suited for the surrounding society, developing schizophrenia, anxiety and depression, or tend towards psychopathic or sociopathic behaviours.

We are the product of our past experiences

The brain will do most of the work by itself, but, to truly enhance a child's development, make them curious. Curiosity leads to synesthesia of several, if not all sensory inputs, breeds creativity and learns causation better than anything else! It is by our own actions that we learn the most.

Anybody who tried to answer all of their questions know that children are innately curious and have a bottomless hunger for new knowledge, only if presented in the right way. The best thing to do is to open the doors of any and all professions at a young age and let them explore the worlds they wish to, be it by book, presentation or by example, and maybe even re-spark the curiosity that has been dulled over the years.

Picture 2: Schematic view of experiences connecting with previous knowledge in different stages of life.


Knowing this information isn't enough by itself, though. More than 250 million children in this crucial development time risk not reaching their development potential because of extreme poverty and biological or sociological stunting. Despite the need, early childhood programs remain severely underfunded and measure less than 0.1 per cent of gross national product of 27 sub-Saharan countries.

UNICEF, together with other companies and governments are implementing the Early Childhood Development program, together with several support programs.

Meanwhile, the Annual Review of Public Health states how, even in more prosperous countries, children are a subject of wrong data implementation: they are often overburdened with the intellectual functions that they lack early social environment beneficial for development of both the intellectual and the social, stunting the child's response to stress and capacity to self-control. It is with better academic programs and social enrichment that they propose to battle against an ever-rising number of socially and mentally inadequate environments.


Humans have unparalleled ability to adapt to any conditions, external or internal, not by nature, but by trial and error, failing and getting up, and redoing everything over and over if necessary. Of all the qualities necessary for survival in modern day and age, one quality leads to development and betterment of every other. From a range of almost supernatural and amazing feats people are able to undertake for developing themselves and the society around them, there is one quality that superseeds them all: perseverance.



References:

1. Baker, Laurie M.; Williams, Leanne M.; Korgaonkar, Mayuresh S.; Cohen, Ronald A.; Heaps, Jodi M.; Paul, Robert H. (2012). "Impact of early vs. Late childhood early life stress on brain morphometrics". Brain Imaging and Behavior. 7 (2): 196–203. doi:10.1007/s11682-012-9215-y. PMID 23247614.

2. Chugani, Harry T.; Behen, Michael E.; Muzik, Otto; Juhász, Csaba; Nagy, Ferenc; Chugani, Diane C. (2001). "Local Brain Functional Activity Following Early Deprivation: A Study of Postinstitutionalized Romanian Orphans". NeuroImage. 14 (6): 1290–301. doi:10.1006/nimg.2001.0917. PMID 11707085.

3. Eluvathingal, T. J.; Chugani, H. T.; Behen, M. E.; Juhász, C; Muzik, O; Maqbool, M; Chugani, D. C.; Makki, M (2006). "Abnormal Brain Connectivity in Children After Early Severe Socioemotional Deprivation: A Diffusion Tensor Imaging Study". Pediatrics. 117 (6): 2093–100. doi:10.1542/peds.2005-1727. PMID 16740852.

4. Saladin, K (2011). Anatomy & physiology : the unity of form and function (6th ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 541. ISBN 9780073378251.

5. Tottenham, Nim; Hare, Todd A.; Quinn, Brian T.; McCarry, Thomas W.; Nurse, Marcella; Gilhooly, Tara; Millner, Alexander; Galvan, Adriana; Davidson, Matthew C.; Eigsti, Inge-Marie; Thomas, Kathleen M.; Freed, Peter J.; Booma, Elizabeth S.; Gunnar, Megan R.; Altemus, Margaret; Aronson, Jane; Casey, B.J. (2010). "Prolonged institutional rearing is associated with atypically large amygdala volume and difficulties in emotion regulation". Developmental Science. 13 (1): 46–61. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00852.x. PMC 2817950. PMID 20121862.

6. "Human brain development is a symphony in three movements". Yale News. 2013-12-26. Retrieved December 26, 2013.

7. https://www.adam-mila.com/

8. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.publhealth.21.1.455

9. https://earlychildhood.qld.gov.au/early-years/developmental-milestones/early-years-brain-development

10. https://www.unicef.org/early-childhood-development

11. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/early-brain-development.html




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