Scientific American recently published an article that explained how our brains are changed by early family turmoil. Even sleeping infants exposed to the sounds of family arguments demonstrated changes to the part of their brain responsible for regulating emotions and stress. It is now unequivocal that infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents are exquisitely sensitive to the environment in which their brain is developing, and that “environment” is not just at home, but at school as well. The choices we make as parents and educators have a profound effect on the children in our care, and it is never too late to make a better, healthier choice for the brain. The most important message of the article is that “damage is unlikely to be permanent…when professionals offer the right treatments…those [that] directly target the neurological changes.” We know the neurological changes made by stress – any kind of stress when beyond mild to moderate – affects the capacity to regulate arousal and emotions in our children and in us. We can do much to ensure that we are regulated as parents and educators, within our zone of optimal arousal, so that the children in our care benefit from that.
What message I do NOT want people coming away with from the article in Scientific American is that there is a specific timeframe within which intervention must happen in order for the brain to heal or normalize. When the author writes that, “damage is unlikely to be permanent IF it can be treated in time,” this implies that beyond a particular time, it is too late. This simply is not true. The neuroplasticity of the brain extends throughout the lifespan with healthy changes happening well into our 70s and 80s. We are now finding, for example, that we can help patients with Alzheimer’s build back neural pathways in their hippocampus with particular kinds of memory exercises. These preliminary studies are being replicated and soon they will offer much more hope than some articles are currently offering. Keep the faith, my friends. Our body of neuroscientific findings continues to grow in the direction of greater possibility, capacity, healing, and growth. The newness we want for our own brain and that of our children is possible, all we need is “the right treatments.” For more information on what these treatments are, simply visit my website, www.DrMelrose.com or my youtube channel.