Research

Social and Emotional Health Impact Brain Development

Here are some quotes from The Science of Early Childhood Development, Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University:

Brains are built over time, from the bottom up. The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. Early experiences affect the quality of that architecture by establishing either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow.

Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar that comprise the foundation of human development.

Toxic stress damages developing brain architecture, which can lead to life-long problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

Experiencing significant adversity early in life can set up our body’s systems to be more susceptible to stress throughout life, with long-term negative consequences for physical and emotional health, educational achievement, economic success, social relationships, and overall well-being.

Young children experience their world as an environment of relationships, and these relationships affect virtually all aspects of their development – intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, and moral. The quality and stability of a child’s human relationships in the early years, lay the foundation for a wide range of later developmental outcomes that really matter – self-confidence and sound mental health, motivation to learn, achievement in school and later in life, the ability to control aggressive impulses and resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways, knowing the difference between right and wrong, having the capacity to develop and sustain casual friendships and intimate relationships.

– The Science of Early Childhood Development
Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University

Behavioral Supports Menu

About Guidance for Planning Behavior Intervention

Kersten’s Story

Self-Stimulation and Self-Injurious Behaviors

Sexuality Education

A teacher invites a young deafblind girl to join her by offering her hand under the girls hand.
A teacher invites a young deafblind girl to join her by offering her hand under the girls hand.

Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar that comprise the foundation of human development.

The Science of Early Childhood Development – Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

Stated simply, relationships are the “active ingredients” of the environment’s influence on healthy human development. They incorporate the qualities that best promote competence and well-being – individualized responsiveness, mutual action-and-interaction, and an emotional connection to another human being, be it a parent, peer, grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, teacher, coach, or any other person who has an important impact on the child’s early development. Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people.In the words of the distinguished developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner: …”in order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one – first, last, and always.” (Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships – National Scientific Council on the Development Child, 2004. page 1.)

What science is now showing us is that brain development is greatly impacted by the quality of the adult-child interactions from the earliest age.  Children who are born with these significant sensory challenges may experience reduced quality and frequency of these critical interactions as a result. The child’s “serves” (conversational initiations) may not be recognized or affirmed as such.  In such instances, the child and his communication partners are at risk for entering into conversational patterns dominated by the adult. That is, conversations characterized by an abundance of adult directives as opposed to a back and forth exchange of thoughts and ideas. Parents may begin to lose confidence in their ability to connect or have these serve and return exchanges when their child does not hear them, may not make eye contact, or is in an extremely stressed state much of the time. Other factors such as multiple hospitalizations, illness, or extremely limited access to the people, things, and events around them, all serve to further isolate the child and produce stress.

The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University proposes a set of “design principles” they recommend for improving outcomes for children and families undergoing extreme stress. These principles are:

    • Support responsive relationships for children and adults.
    • Strengthen core life skills.
    • Reduce sources of stress in the lives of children and families.

Core Principles of Development Can Help Us Redesign Policy and Practice,

Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University

These core principles may also serve as a basis for improving, not only the social and emotional development of the child with sensory loss and additional challenges, but also the child’s overall development in communication and cognitive skills.

Theory of Self-Determination

Over the course of 30 years of research,  Richard Ryan and Edward L. Deci at the University of Rochester have developed a theory of human motivation, personality development, and well-being. The theory focuses on volitional or self-determined behavior and the social and cultural conditions that promote it. Ryan and Deci’s work states that healthy human functioning (regardless of where the individual is in their development) has a set of three innate psychological needs that, when met, allow for optimal function and growth.

    1. Competence– the need to control outcomes in their environment and experience mastery. The need to feel successful. 
    2. Autonomy- the need to be causal agents of one’s own life and act in harmony with one’s integrated self. The need to feel independent.
    3. Relatedness- the universal need to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others. The need to feel connected.

When people experience feelings of connectedness, success, and independence, they are experiencing the opposite of emotional distress. They feel safe and secure. They feel calm. Their bodies and brains are open to the type of exploration and inquiry that is necessary for learning and growth. (Schultz, 2019)

A dad and his son enjoy the experience of playing with a pompom.
A dad and his son enjoy the experience of playing with a pompom.

When people experience feelings of connectedness, success, and independence they are experiencing the opposite of emotional distress. They feel safe and secure. They feel calm. Their bodies and brains are open to the type of exploration and inquiry that is necessary for learning and growth.

Matt Schultz, 2019

Presentation