Children’s brain development needs our attention

March 16, 2020
Children’s brain development needs our attention

It seems that the first peaks and troughs of settling into kinder and school are resolving, particularly with the great collaboration between Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapist and teacher. Just when you thought you could breathe a sigh of relief some schools are closing, hopefully temporarily. Just so you know we have a privacy protected and easy to use platform for Telehealth so if you can’t make an appointment, we can always conduct a therapy session with you from your home. Please see the article about this further in the newsletter.  

On the 25th February I enjoyed presenting to the Kew Perinatal Mental Health Professionals Network on “Parent-Child Engagement and Early Communication Development”. This group have a rich bouquet of experience and knowledge being made up of psychologists, social workers, maternal and child health nurses, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and psychiatrists.  

In this presentation we reflected on the fact that babies are not just born with a brain that is ready to operate. Instead, the architecture of a baby’s brain develops from the ‘serve and return’ of baby’s interactions with their parents and caregivers. From every back and forth interaction with the baby pathways are formed in the brain; and frequently used pathways become circuits which become faster and faster with frequent use. We know that the first 3 years are critical in the development of this brain architecture and that from the earliest days, memory, motor and visual skills, language, emotion and behavioural control are all developing in synchrony.  

A newborn can see about 30 cm. This is the perfect distance between Mother and Baby’s face where baby can focus on her mother’s face and eyes when being fed and held. When the baby looks at the mother or ‘serves’, the mother ‘returns’ with loving facial expression, eye contact and talking in ‘motherese’.  These earliest interactions are forming connections and circuits for memory, language, social and emotional foundations. The baby is totally dependent on their parent or a necessary parent substitute to provide this critical serve and return for the development of their brain, so as parents we can try to be as available as possible to tune in to our little ones as no one else can do it half as well as you can.   To hear a podcast of this presentation click here.

Many of the children that come to Melbourne Child Development have been slower to develop their communication skills despite having available, attuned and loving parents and caregivers. As we know, our brains are plastic until the day we die, so we can help these children by being in tune with very subtle communication cues and by responding in more intense emotional ways so that they pick up our cues. We also provide ideas to stimulate the child’s serve and return by identifying the individual profile of each child.  

The Hanen ©More Than Words program currently being run at Melbourne Chid Development is a Program that does exactly this. Our dynamic Speech Pathologists Natasha Kolivas and Alexandra Crea are facilitators of our current program and assure me that they have enough energy to run another program in the second half of the year so please let Client Services know if you are interested.  

Six of our staff attended a presentation by Professor Andrew Whitehouse on the 24th of February on the future of Autism research. Professor Whitehouse is professor of Autism Research at the Telethon Institute and the Autism CRC. He discussed a clinical trial where parents who are about to have a baby and who already have a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder can participate in a pre and antenatal intervention program to work proactively to facilitate brain connections and circuits in their new baby. Places are available in the clinical trial. Please contact us for details.   

Kind regards,

Robyn Stephen 
Practice Principal