Health and Grades Will Come, First Focus on the Individual

Anxiety and uneasiness is more often than not a common experience in youth. Anxiety could be considered an inevitability for anyone and everyone, prolonged anxiety, for long periods of time, can be debilitating or taxing in one’s daily life.

Anxiety is not a necessary addition to life, though it can be hard to avoid, or hard to deal with when it strikes. In the life of an adolescent, anxiety can affect health, grades, and most importantly, a child or adolescent’s sense of well being. Paradoxically enough, Anxiety at this age can offer be a consequence of grades, while it is a surefire way to affect grades themselves.

At this point in an individual’s life, the adolescent must reconcile with changes in themselves, changes in their peers and social groups, and this stretch of the journey of life is often considered the most difficult, or the most riddled with stress and anxiety.

A common theme for individuals at this point in life, is a feeling that something is missing. True, that at the age of adolescence, the child is no longer an offshoot of his parents, but an independent entity who, whether actively or not, has a dormant desire to actualize this break, or an inner battle in which the individual must reconcile with the inevitability of this break if it causes anxiety or is unwanted. This “loss’ in itself is a legitimate experience as a part of the individuals coming of age.

How does this manifest in the life of an adolescent? It is as if each individual shoots off in their own direction at the point of puberty. While it was once a closer feeling of unity amongst the individual child and his or her peers before puberty, the individualization which occurs (or has not yet occurred for some) sends adolescents on their own paths to self discovery, on a journey to define themselves.

The real question, is how can we assist these individuals, how can we as a community help, and contribute to their becoming their own selves? It is my every joy and pleasure to be able to offer council and direction to youth, to guide them on this journey, and help each individual in the process.

What isn’t always clear for every person in the adolescent stage of life is what decisions can really define them, and how the impact of time and patience can truly benefit them in their individualization. It is not my duty or responsibility to impose a system of values on anyone, rather, I’ve found myself a listener, who through empathy and experience with so many others, can lead others to help themselves- to determine where their real interests and goals lay, to allow those individuals to realize these pathways and modes of thought which will inspire them, on their own, to make those “educated” decisions and life choices.

In a time and community which wants the best for its children, where “the best” is often measured by grades, school performance, and similar gauges from the adult perspective, and an entirely different lens for the youth themselves, it is one of the most difficult things for an adolescent individual to balance.

The weight may seem as if it is all on their shoulders, like no one understands their struggle, or that their peers and their family, and the posters on the side of the street all want to fit them into some category that simply doesn’t resonate with them. And how are those individuals to know that the values by which they themselves feel judged are not the only values on which to judge, and are perhaps not the best values for them individually?

Maternal Support Linked to Hippocampal Development

dr m david kurland mother and child

A study conducted by child psychiatrists of Washington University suggests that the children who were nurtured by their mothers during their preschool years were prone to stronger brain structure growth.

Joan L. Luby, the first author of the study says that their findings suggest that the human brain has a specific period in its early growth where it responds more readily and positively to the maternal support it receives. This research is part of a larger project that the researches are working towards, and builds on top of their previous study that suggests there was a link between maternal nurturing before school age and a larger hippocampus.

Luby and her fellow researchers analyzed brain scans that were taken of children between preschool age and early adolescence. 127 children were given three different MRI scans that documented their brains between preschool and “early adolescence”. They noticed some distinct differences in the children’s hippocampi.  During this analysis, the researchers were able to see a distinct increase in the hippocampus in children that received nurturing support during their preschool aged years. The children that did not receive as much support, had a much smaller hippocampus. The hippocampi remained small even if their maternal figures increased their amount of support during later developmental years.

Their findings have allowed the researchers to come to a few different conclusions. It has become increasingly clear that maternal nurturing is more important in the early stages of a child’s life than any other time; its effects decrease over time. The hippocampus’s growth is also directly related to the overall health of the child’s emotional function as teenagers. Teenagers that did not experience the early maternal nurturing were at a distinct disadvantage in terms of the benefits of hippocampal growth.

Co-author of the study, Deanna M. Barch, PhD of Washington University, was quoted saying,

“This finding highlights the critical importance of caregiving in sculpting aspects of brain development that are important to how children function as they mature.”

Understandably, what constitutes “nurture” is relative, but the researchers standardized what they counted as nurture by monitoring and observing recorded interactions between the children and the mothers. Nurture and support was based on the mother’s ability to “maintain their composure and complete assigned tasks while still offering emotional support to their children.”

The findings of this study have important implications because they shed light on what can be done to help children perform better in school and develop healthier emotional demeanors in the long term.


 

The materials sourced for this blog can be found here: Science Daily via Washington University

 

Robot Therapists Enter the Realm of Child Psychiatry

The field of psychiatry is historically associated entirely with human interaction and empathy; it is a science and field that seems unlikely to be associated with the ever-increasing encroachment of technology and robots in the medical field. However, that is exactly what is happening. Robot therapy is becoming an increasingly growing area of study; it’s most prominent sector being the realm children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

 

The use of robot therapy with children with ASD is a thriving area of research; studies have shown that children with autism prefer to interact with technology over interacting with humans. The medical and psychiatric realm is now working to determine how to optimize this preference for everyone’s benefit. Zachary Warren, Ph.D. poses the question, “How do we use this preference to boost early social skills, as opposed to having technology exacerbate the deficits in social behavior?” It’s a delicate line balance. Warren has been working on a creating an environment that tests a “robot therapist’s” ability to teach joint attention to children with autism. This inability to share the focus of on a common item is an early, telltale sign of autism spectrum disorder in children.

 

Warren and a team of engineers have created a system of cameras that track where a child’s focus is held. While the cameras are rolling, a robot provides prompts to the child to guide their gaze/focus. The robots are equipped to provide positive reinforcement to the children when prompts are received successfully. The use of robots in this scenario provide a very unique benefit: the physical presence of the robot allows it to be more than just a tool; children react with this technology creature more readily (and differently) than they would with simple 2D images on a screen.

 

This is not to say that the robots will be able to replace human interaction (at this point in time), but the robots do offer a unique, complementary addition to the care and treatment that a child can get from humans.

 

There is a huge potential for growth within the field of robotic therapy. Autism spectrum disorder is not the only disorder that can be addressed with the correct robot technology. There is the potential for robot therapists to work with children who are survivors of trauma or abuse, who may feel more comfortable being open with something that is not a person. There is also the potential to move away from children, and to work with older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

 

To see the article that inspired this post, click here.