Category Archives: Child Development

What is Natural? I Thought I Knew and Still Think I Know

“Breast Feeding is Unnatural.”

That was the headline I saw the other day when perusing the news. My first reaction was, “WHAT? What is this country coming to?” An article/study in Pediatrics entitled, “Unintended Consequences of Invoking the ‘Natural’ in Breastfeeding Promotion,” written by Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill, essentially claims that “referencing the ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion—may inadvertently endorse a set of values about family life and gender roles which would be ethically inappropriate.” I’m sorry, but “natural” actually does fit my set of values. How extreme can the obsession with sexuality and gender get?

When I saw this headline, it immediately took me back to UCLA in the early ‘80s. I was doing an early morning news show that was being filmed at UCLA’s Child Development Center. The station brought me to UCLA so I could provide an opinion about UCLA’s daycare perspectives. We did the interview in a huge room that was full of babies, toddlers and lots of noise. The children were on mats and in various cribs and there were students interacting with some of the children, while others slept, cried or expressed varying degrees of displeasure. As we began the interview, the head of the department made a statement that literally left me in a state of shock. She said that young children being home with their mother was UNNATURAL!

To gain a bit of historic perspective, common use of daycares and preschools is really a relatively new phenomenon. Daycares actually date back to the late 1800s as facilities for working mothers. But even back in the ‘50s it was rare for a child to go to daycare. There weren’t yet preschools and the majority of children didn’t start school until they were five or six. To further put things in perspective, back in the ‘50s when we were having air-raid drills in school and were hearing “better dead than red,” we were traumatized hearing stories about Russia, where little children were put in schools as early as two or three years of age—horrifying!

Back at the time of my interview at UCLA, formal daycare was still rather rare. Working moms generally relied on family members or informal situations where stay-at-home moms would take care of another child or two.

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson created Head Start, a program that was initiated as part of his “War on Poverty” to help meet the needs of preschool aged children from low-income families. Head Start was and is a good thing. Providing early educational opportunities for children from disadvantaged homes is a good thing. Children from disadvantaged families absolutely do better with early childhood educational opportunities.

Today, however, educational propaganda has created the distorted perspective that all children are better off in daycare and preschool and that they are, in fact, being deprived of opportunities if they do not attend. Economic reality is such that many mothers need to work when their children are under five. There are mothers who choose to have careers and need nannies, daycare and preschools, which is fine. Certainly, the better the daycares and the preschools, the more opportunities those children have. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. An involved dedicated mother, who after all knows her child better than anyone else on the planet and who can provide her child with individual attention throughout the day, is not only doing something that is quite “natural,” but is probably optimizing her child’s first critical years of development. An informed, dedicated parent given the right tools, can do absolute wonders—quite naturally.

—Bob Doman

 

 

April is Autism Awareness Month

NACD Autism Awareness MonthIt’s Autism Awareness Month, so let’s talk about ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and awareness.

They say you are what you eat. They should also say you are what you attend to and can process. What you perceive, the quality of what goes into your brain through your sensory channels, what you pay attention to and how much of it you can process essentially determines what and how much you learn. In turn, it determines how you can think, what you know, how you develop and ultimately your quality of life.

One way to gauge the level or degree of involvement of those on the autism spectrum is to look at what they give their attention to, their overall level of awareness and the degree to which they are present and engaged. As we look at individuals with sensory issues, which is generally how we refer to those on the spectrum internally at NACD, we start with observation and understanding that individual for the purpose of providing strategies to improve specific and global function.

We can observe virtually any child, watch what they are paying attention to and see how much they are attending to what is happening around them. This gives us a fair sense of what and how much they are learning and developing and what issues need to be addressed. Everyone essentially attends to what is meaningful to us and ignores what isn’t. We can observe any number of children who are on the autism spectrum or who have developmental delays, look at their behavior and develop insight as to their needs. For example, if there is a child staring at a ceiling fan rotating over and over, or a child who is in the corner waving their hands in front of their face and making repetitious sounds, or a child sitting quietly sucking on and smelling their fingers, or a child who is pacing around the room, relatively oblivious to anyone or anything going on in the room, then we know we have children who are essentially not present, not learning and not developing. We could also observe other children who are trying to get our attention, or are going around the room investigating and getting into things, looking at this and that, touching or banging things, knocking things over—children who are much more present and are learning and developing at a much higher rate. The varying degrees of a child’s involvement and of being present is essentially a representation of their level of severity and where they are on the spectrum.

The first group of children are not only not learning, they are engaging in behaviors that are making them more and more isolated, further delaying the normal development of their sensory channels and teaching their brains to ignore more and more of what is in their world. For their brains, the meaningless is meaningful and significant to their brains, while what should be meaningful is essentially meaningless. The exploring child is looking for meaning, for significance and that child’s brain will continue to do this with every new opportunity. The degree to which any child is inquisitive, attending to the right things (be it making eye contact because they know there is something to learn from observing your face and listening to your words, or looking at the people and things in their environment and interacting with that environment), the more present they are, the better and higher their level of function, the more and faster they are learning and developing.

Neuroplasticity, that thing which permits the brain to change and develop, occurs through input. It does not simply develop because we are getting older. The quality and quantity of the input the child’s brain receives determines not only how rapidly the child develops, but also how they develop. Good input generates good change and development, while bad input produces negative changes to the brain and impairs development.

Awareness, being present, is that which determines the direction and rate of development. For any child with a developmental delay, normalizing sensory function, redirecting them when they are “stimming” or engaging in DSAs (Debilitating Sensory Addictions or sensory addictive behaviors) and providing them with as much specific, appropriate, targeted input as possible is the formula that can produce the desired results and foster development. Positive neuroplasticity occurs when we provide the child with specific, targeted input that is delivered with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration.

For those children on the lower end of the spectrum, intensive neurodevelopmental intervention is needed to help bring their developmental pieces together. For any child with lesser issues or with a developmental delay who cannot process information or coordinate movements well enough to play independently, they are at risk of getting too good at infantile sensory play, getting developmentally stuck and need intervention to rapidly develop their sensory function and processing. Every child needs attention. Every child needs specific appropriate input and opportunities to maximize their potential. As parents, educators and those assuming various roles in helping children become all they can be, we need to perceive every child as having unlimited potential and do all we can do to provide them with opportunities commensurate with that perception.

All parents should be aware of what your child is and isn’t attending to. Pay attention to how present they are and be proactive. Bring them into this world or they will go into their own. If they have a problem, don’t perceive it as a disease, let alone an incurable disease, perceive it for what it is—one of many developmental steps that you need to help them achieve on their way to achieving their unique potential.

—Bob Doman

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do Behavior Development, Social Skills and Maturity All Have in Common?

NACD Blog Behavior, Social, Maturity & Splinter SkillsA great deal of time and effort is spent attempting to teach children, particularly children with developmental issues, skills that will assist in their daily life. Many of these attempts are actually attempts to teach splinter skills. Splinter skills are specific skills that do not generalize because they are not developmentally based. To generalize means that something taught specifically can be used and incorporated throughout overall function. If something cannot be generalized, it has very limited value and more often than not fades away. Whenever possible we want to dedicate the majority of our time and efforts to building the neurological foundation.

As children advance in their global development and function, they will generally acquire a vast array of associated skills commensurate with the advanced global/cognitive function. If we look at children from birth to five, where the development is typically the fastest, we see that the children over the course of each year acquire a broad range of new abilities that cover the full range of human function. These include the development of receptive and expressive language, gross and fine motor functions and skills, along with social interaction. In typical development, we essentially start with an infant who cannot control any part of their body and cannot interpret anything they see, hear, feel, smell or taste. In five short years, this same individual can run, jump, climb, take care of most and possibly all of their personal needs, carry on a conversation and interact socially. They have knowledge of everything from the name of an insect to the quarterback for the Rams.

Most of what the typical child has learned they were not specifically taught—they have learned what they have simply because they could. As their brains have developed—as their processing, short-term memory, working memory, and executive function have improved—their brains have simply been able to absorb more, understand more and do more.

If we are intelligently and wisely teaching a child or a young adult, whether they are two or twenty-two, we are teaching them things that are commensurate with their global neurological function or maturity. If we are attempting to teach specific skills that are not appropriate for their global function, we are actually attempting to teach splinter skills. Splinter skills are very specific situational skills that do not generalize. To some degree this can be done, but rarely well or quickly and rarely does it stick.

Many of the functions that we would love to see change, the appropriate behavior social skills we would be delighted to see emerge and the maturity that we hope for, are really reflections of what is termed executive function. If we understand executive function and how it develops and is built, we can dedicate more of our time to what works and not so much to what doesn’t.

If we are to be successful in helping a child develop and gain foundational skills including behavior, social skills, and maturity, we must first establish the neurological and cognitive foundation.

And now for the rest of the story…

—Bob

Related Articles

Discussion of the Relevant Perception, Structure, and Application of NACD’s Model of Working Memory and Cognition (NACD.org)

Two A’s and a B and Lots of Smiles

I believe we are at about thirty-three thousand feet and the pilot is about to tell us all to stay put as we enter a storm system over the Rockies. I’m heading home. Today was my last day on a two-city trip. On this trip I saw adults and kids in Cincinnati and St. Louis.

As I’m heading home I can’t help but smile as I think about the kids and adults I’ve seen over the last two weeks and all we shared.

NACD Bob Doman Blog - AllyMy trip started off with Ally. Ally is one big giant perpetual smile. She smiles as she comes in the door, she smiles as I speak with her parents about what a “turkey” she can be, she smiles after she shows me her walking and she smiles and waves goodbye—“See ya Bob.” Ally is twelve and is now, after lots and lots of work, starting to walk on her own. She is in a typical classroom and doing well academically. She still needs large print, but reads well. She talks up a storm and is generally a delight, although she loves to torment her mom and dad. I first saw Ally when she was 10 months old. Ally was shaken by her babysitter when she was four and half months old and severely brain damaged. By the time I saw her, just months after her injury, she had shunts in both sides of her brain to relieve the pressure, had suffered retinal hemorrhages and essentially had no vision, was diagnosed with infantile spasms (severe seizures), was on two different seizure medications and was recovering from breaks to both legs and her left arm. Devastating, but Ally’s parents are exceptional folks and have worked wonders with her. Every time I see Ally I remember where she was; and although she has many pieces yet to be put together, she is a trooper, doing great and smiling!

NACD Bob Doman Blog - Abby - Down SyndromeSt. Louis started with Abby, a seven-year-old ball of fire. She runs in the room with her mom and throws her arms around me and gives me a big smack on the cheek. Abby has Down syndrome, but it surely isn’t slowing her down. She’s in a typical 2nd grade class—academically and socially right there with her peers. But I’d be willing to bet that Abby generates more smiles and warms more hearts per minute than 99.9% of the kids on the planet. Typically, when she leaves her evals she turns, waves, throws me a kiss and impishly says, “Bye, Bobby.” More smiles!

Today, my last day of the trip, I saw Brae who just started on program in February and today her two sisters came in for programs. Both of the girls are going to be absolutely brilliant. Brae has a genetic disorder that has the long name of Inverted Duplication Deletion 8p. To her family and me, she is just cute, fun, smiling Brae with unlimited potential. Today she came in and from across the room looked at me, eyes focusing and working together, converging and gave me a huge smile—a smile that remained in place throughout our time together. Today I got to see her walk by herself without as much as a finger of support. Big deal! Gargantuan deal—wonderful!  I also got to hear her talk. Big deal! Gargantuan deal! And I got to see her smile, I got to see her mom smile and when they left, her mom gave me a big hug and we shared the miracle of her girls. Brae and her sisters made my day special. Another in a stream of literally thousands and thousands of wonderful days filled with incredible people.

 

 

As I sit here in the plane and think about the trip and the incredible range of issues that needed to be addressed, I ponder, as I do in virtually every waking moment and through most of the night, how do we do this better. I know there are a lot of things our kids and adults aren’t doing yet, that we need to figure out and work on, but as I review our time together, we had smiles—big smiles and lots of them. Wherever they or their children are on their voyage, however far we are striving to go, everyone of them, everyone of the parents were smiling about who their kids are today, valuing them for who they are and appreciating where they are on their journey. We were all thankful for them.

We see kids for who they are, for what they can do, for what joy we can bring to their lives and what joy they can bring to ours and others’ and we all share in the joy of watching them grow. I feel humbled and privileged to be able to participate in the process.

Thanks!
—Bob

Fletch Rocks!

Meet Fletch. This little guy has been on an NACD program since he was one and is another great example of what kids can do if given the opportunity.

Fletch is fun, happy and at age three-and-a-half during his last evaluation was processing almost five digits, was reading over a hundred words, understanding basic math concepts, conversational and excelling physically.

This video of Fletch on the climbing wall was his very first time climbing—the very first time! On his second climb, he went to the top of a 55-foot wall. Fletch’s ability to do this well on his first attempt as a three-year-old (and according to his instructor, better than most of his twelve-year-old students) is a reflection of Fletch and who he is, but also of his superior processing skills. Short-term memory, working memory, and executive function permitted him to look at the challenge and understand that he was going to be safe and that it was going to be fun. Watching him on the wall is a reflection of his focus, attention, planning, organization of his motor skills, proprioception, and maturity.

Fletch is a great kid with a great future and another NACD kid who is showing people what is possible.

The key to development and education is building the foundation and helping the child realize their potential. Fletch is unique. All children are unique, and they all have incredible potential. We need to help everyone understand that the key is building the neurodevelopmental foundation, turning children onto learning, providing them with opportunities, then standing back and getting out of their way.

– Bob