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The Promotion of Healthy Mental Functioning Stuart G. Shanker Distinguished Research Professor Director, Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative. ISSA Roundtable, October 14, 2009. At the Point of School-Entry, approximately…. 1.1% of children with have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder

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issa roundtable october 14 2009

The Promotion of Healthy Mental FunctioningStuart G. ShankerDistinguished Research Professor Director, Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative

ISSA Roundtable, October 14, 2009

at the point of school entry approximately
At the Point of School-Entry, approximately…
  • 1.1% of children with have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • 4% of children will have an externalizing disorder (e.g., conduct disorder, aggresion)
  • 5:5 of children will have an internalizing disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety disorder)
  • Between 7-12% of children will have ADHD
a true population problem
A True Population Problem
  • Research by Doug Willms (2002) suggests that approximately 26% of all children are vulnerable
  • Further research by Rimm-Kaufmann, Pianta & Cox (2001) suggests that a further 25% of all children, while not mentally ill, can neither be said to be mentally healthy
why can t we change trajectories
Why Can’t We Change Trajectories?
  • After decades of trying, it has turned out that it is extremely difficult to alter any of the above problems or to change educational trajectories
  • This led to the famous hypothesis by Herrnstein & Murray (1994) that the answer must be in the genes
two key revolutions
Two Key Revolutions
  • Probabilistic epigenetics: genes don’t operate in anything like the manner postulated by the genetic determinists (see Gottlieb 1997)
  • The real source of the child’s problems lies in effortful control (Rothbart 1989; Posner & Rothbart 2006)
self regulation
  • If the 20th Century was The Century of the Gene (Fox-Keller 2000), the 21st Century will be the Century of Self-Regulation (Shonkoff & Phillips, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, 2000)
research at mehri
Research at MEHRI
  • Our research shows that autistic children are, in fact, capable of genuine implicit learning, where the only rewards for engaging in social interaction are the social interaction itself
  • We see a significant shift, as a result of early intervention, from automatic or reactive to voluntary or learned forms of self-regulation
scaling up
Scaling Up
  • How do we apply these results to the whole population
  • How do we mitigate, if not prevent, the sorts of problems outlined at the start of this talk?
  • How do we enhance the self-regulation of every child?
the pascal report with our best future in mind 2009
The Pascal Report: With our Best Future in Mind (2009)
  • The province of Ontario has just initiated a massive integrated approach to Early Child Development 0-8
  • Among its highlights are:
  • Universal preschool for 4 and 5 year-olds
  • Turning schools into community hubs
the key to scaling up
The Key to Scaling Up
  • A new approach to teacher-training
  • The Ontario teacher-training curriculum Every Child Every Opportunity is built around maximizing self-regulation
  • Specialists trained in human development: in understanding the experiences that promote self-regulation and those that may actually exacerbate problems
secondary altriciality
Secondary Altriciality
  • Early plasticity enables the child’s brain to be highly attuned to the environment in which she is born
  • Synaptic growth in the first 2 years is massive
  • There is huge over-production of synapses that, at 8 months, will start to be ‘pruned’ back
  • Synaptic pruning is regulated by baby’s emotional interactions with her caregivers
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Neal Halfon

the role of the primary caregiver in early brain growth
The Role of the Primary Caregiver in Early Brain Growth
  • The primary caregiver serves as an ‘external brain’, regulating and stimulating the baby’s brain
  • Dyadic experiences are vital for:
    • Sensory integration
    • Sensory/motor integration
    • Emotion-regulation
    • Effortful Control
development of self regulation
Development of Self-Regulation
  • Baby is born with limited capacity to regulate her own arousal, pay attention, control impulses, etc.
  • This function is performed in early months by caregivers (Fox & Calkins 2003)
  • Infant develops the capacity to self-regulate by being regulated
  • This goes on for a considerable length of time, e.g., as the caregiver helps the child learn how to express emotions, how to regulate stress
five levels of self regulation
Five Levels of Self-Regulation
  • Biological (temperament, reactivity)
  • Emotional (regulation of emotions, stress)
  • Cognitive (sustained attention; inhibit impulses; ignore distractions; cope with frustration, delay)
  • Social co-regulating
  • Self-reflection (awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses)
the brain to brain interactive system
The Brain-to-Brain Interactive System
  • Nature provided us with an exquisitely sensitive interactive system, in which specific types of experiences result in the delivery of specific types of stimuli to systems that come ‘online’ hierarchically
  • There are three key stages in this process:
        • Proximal
        • Distal
        • Verbal
  • In each of these stages, early brain development is fundamentally dyadic
  • Fogel, A, King, B & Shanker, S (2007) Human Development in the 21st Century (Cambridge UP)
  • Greenspan, S & Shanker, S (2004) The First Idea (Perseus)
  • McCain, M, JF Mustard & SG Shanker (2007) Early Years Study II: Putting Science into Action.
  • Shanker, SG (2008) ‘In Search of the Pathways that lead to mentally healthy children’, Journal of Developmental Processes