The human body is awesome.

I mean like step back, take a minute, and just wonder at it all.

The body makes incredible adaptations in the moment as well as over the course of time.

And speaking of time, human development is about the most magical thing of all as an incredible chain of events unfolds that we have yet to fully understand.

Neural plasticity, or the ability of our brains to form new connections throughout our lives, is no less fascinating, particularly as it applies to development and early intervention.

The developing brain is busy creating synapses, the connections between brain cells, before birth to prepare a child for interaction with the outside world. 

Pruning of these synapses begins after birth, with the selective elimination of connections that are unused or not functioning properly. 

This is just another example of the body’s phenomenal ability to adapt to the surrounding environment and demands placed upon it, allowing the remaining connections to be used more efficiently.

Early life experiences are impactful. 

They literally shape the brain and the way it functions. 

Socially isolating or high-stress early environments have a negative impact on long-term development, while supportive and interactive environments have a beneficial effect over the lifetime.

Many of the children we serve in Early Intervention programs have some sort of brain injury. 

Issues such as intraventricular hemorrhage, low oxygen levels, and hydrocephalus are not uncommon in their medical histories. 

The wonderful adaptable brain does its best to accommodate via chemical changes and increased circulation around the affected area. 

Infants who have damage in the left hemisphere of the brain, where most adult language function occurs, may even develop a language center in the corresponding area on the right side of the brain with minimal loss of language function.

The brain can adapt, but there is still a significant amount of “use it or lose it” that occurs in the early years. 

If the child with cerebral palsy affecting one side of his or her body is not regularly encouraged to incorporate the affected side into movements and motor planning, the area of the brain dedicated to moving that side of the body becomes smaller, making motor control later in life more challenging.

If children are not achieving milestones that would be expected of same-age peers, it is essential they have exposure to the positions, movements, and sensations that those peers are experiencing as nearly as is possible and medically appropriate. 

We don’t wait until our children can talk before we start speaking to them. 

We don’t wait until our children can sit before we start placing them upright. 

We don’t wait for them to wrap their arms around us before we hold them.

It is necessary to expose children to tasks beyond their current capabilities, as long as we remain intentional about building the foundation necessary to achieve those skills.

Practice makes perfect when the task is practiced perfectly. 

Practice makes non-functional skills perfectly non-functional when they are done the same non-functional way repeatedly. 

It is essential for caregivers and early intervention providers to determine functional ways to practice skills frequently within daily routines, ensuring that necessary physical, communicative, and emotional supports are in place.

Start early. 

Build strong connections in your child’s brain and connect to the best possible future.

References

Damiano, D. "Effects of motor activity on brain and muscle development in cerebral palsy." Cerebral Palsy in Infancy: Targeted Activity to Optimize Early Growth and Development (2013).

 Hadders-Algra, Mijna. "Early diagnosis and early intervention in cerebral palsy."Frontiers in neurology 5 (2014).

Nelson, Charles A. "The neurobiological bases of early intervention." Handbook of early childhood intervention 2 (2000): 204-227.

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