Brain elasticity and children

This is an update to the article to reflect home school needs related to states’ school closures and stay in place mandates. Parents, do you believe that you, your child, or young adult’s intelligence quotient is written in stone? Well, it isn’t. Your child’s brain is more like porous sponge and less likely to function as hardened concrete. Parents may ask, “what do you mean by brain elasticity or brain plasticity?”

Experts define brain plasticity (neuroplasticity) as the ability of the nervous system to respond to changes in its environment due to intrinsic (internal)  or extrinsic (external) stimuli by reorganizing its (the brain) structure, functions, or connections. As a school psychologist, I routinely assess the cognitive functioning of children and young adults for eligibility in gifted programs and/or for suitability for special education programs. There appears to be a lack of knowledge regarding intelligence and its nature to change over time. So, I am writing this article to inform parents and educators about the factors involved in brain development and current research indicating that brain development is an evolving process. It isn’t static, as we were taught to believe many eons ago.

Hopefully the information shared will help parents as they work to ensure that academic learning takes place in a home school environment.

Brain Elasticity and Your Child’s Environment

There are environmental factors that impact healthy brain development.According to research supported by the National Institute of Health, “brain development and function is influenced by different environmental events such as sensory stimuli, psychoactive drugs, gonadal hormones, parental-child relationships, peer relationships, early stress, intestinal flora, and diet. “

Stress during rapid brain development can lead to mental illness in teens

As you re-read the factors that influence healthy brain development and cognitive functioning, you’ll may notice that genetic influencers are conspicuously absent. They ARE NOT mentioned. Incidentally, it seems as though the nature vs. nurture argument rears its ugly head. There is ample research too, to show that even after infancy, toddler age and to the teen years, teenagers are highly susceptible to mental illness (depression, anxiety, eating disorder, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder) when under extreme stress and duress. The reason? The teen years bring with them rapid physical, hormonal, emotional, social changes and incredible brain development, making them very vulnerable to mental illness during this time.

But back to the NIH Report. While the NIH report is highly technical, here are a few highlights in laymen’s terms.

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Brain Elasticity and Your Child

  • Injury can negatively impact the formation of new neurons formed in the brain. Translation: stay away from sports related concussions.
  • Varied experiences aid in the formation of brain “synapses in hours and possibly even minutes after some experiences. Translation: visits to museums, libraries foreign countries, or sea aquariums, and life affirming (enriched) experiences help to expand one’s perspective as well as brain formation.
  • Some “psychoactive drugs may produce large behavioral changes and have widespread acute effects on neurons, but the chronic plastic changes are surprisingly focal and largely confined to the prefrontal cortex.” Translation: the very young stay away from certain pharmaceuticals as they can negatively impact executive functions such as planning and decision making abilities.
  • Changes in brain elasticity are time dependent. Translation: Enriched experiences can be helpful for brain development, but research as found that these “changes are not all permanent and they may change dramatically over time.”
  • “Experience dependent changes interact” with one another. Translation: Prior exposure to psychomotor stimulants in childhood and young adulthood prevents the expected changes from occurring later (i.e, drug may need to be given in higher dosages and more frequently to affect the change expected).
  • Negative impacts of brain elasticity has been recorded among drug addicts, pathological pain, pathological sickness, severe prenatal stress, and schizophrenia. Translation: Because brain development responds to its environment, not all changes are positive. Therefore, negative conditions can impact the brain so severely that that they “affect normal cognitive and motor functions both in development and in adulthood.”

Now that we have summarized the factors impacting the brain development, in a future article, we will discuss the steps you can take as a parent, educator or administrator, in real time, to apply these lessons learned in your life to actually grow you and your loved one’s brain.

Another article you might like: How to Grow your Child’s Brain

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