Sunday, November 29, 2009

Effects of drugs and alcohol on the fetus

On WLDY’s radio program I introduced the topic that will occupy us in the next few weeks of the column. It is about the use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and how the maternal use of these affects children in all stages of their growth.

Let’s start prior to conception. Teenagers who drink and experiment even a little with drugs will have changes in their developing brain. The area of the brain related to judgement is greatly affected. This translates into risk taking behavior, conflict with parents, poor judgement when driving, and aggressive relationships with peers leading to sexual assault. The same outcomes from drinking and drug experimentation are true for older teens and adults.

The fertility of males is negatively affected and the genetic code transmitted by sperm has an increased rate of mutation. A child conceived by this sperm would suffer the effects of this genetic mutation. These measurable effects are an increase in the number of children with birth defects, children with hyperactivity and attention deficit, and children who grow up to be drug and alcohol users themselves. Men, you make a big difference. The difference you make is your choice.

The maternal effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use are even more observable in children. A pregnant female who smokes has a smaller, less healthy newborn. Newborns who are small and unhealthy grow into children who are sick and less bright than their healthy counterparts. This is not just about avoiding the common cold or the occasional stomach upset. This is about the beginning of a series of illnesses that are lifelong and goes with the affected person to the grave.

The use of addictive drugs such as crack and prescription drugs have an observable effect even before birth. The fetus is addicted and experiences withdrawal just as the mother does. At birth the harsh withdrawal from the addition is evident in the seizures and inability to take in nourishment. Addicted babies die or are saved to live of mental deficiencies.

Next week I’ll share what I know about fetal alcohol syndrome.

Toad House Publishing

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Development from 4 to 5

This is our last look at The Developmental Map of the First Five Years by Dr. Harry Ireton. Those of us interested in early childhood development owe a great deal to his work. e has provided in this simple tool a way to look at the development of a child and gauge where they are functioning. The map helps us begin to look for discrepancies in the rate of growth in each developmental area. As the words of Mr. Rogers suggest, “Everything grows together, because we’re all one piece”. If you believe this is not the case with your child’s development, it is wise to seek the advice of your child’s pediatrician, our Rusk County Birth to Three Program, or the early childhood team in your school system. They can help pinpoint where on the map your child’s development may have gone astray. More importantly they can help you understand your role in helping your child reach his full potential.

So here we are with our child age four to five years old. She will enter kindergarten in the next year and you will move to a different place in how you parent and she will move to a different place in how much guidance she needs from you.

Right now her social skills are at the level where she follows simple rules in board games or card games and where she can show leadership among children. The self-help markers from age four to five include self-toileting, usually looking both ways before crossing the street, and buttoning one or more buttons. Gross motor skills include propelling herself on a swing by pumping, skipping or making running broad jumps, and being able to hop repeatedly on one foot without support. She can print most of her first name, draw a person that has a head, eyes, nose, mouth and maybe even arms and legs, and she draws many other recognizable pictures. Language development is taking a new leap as she can read a few letters of the alphabet and maybe some words. She can tell you what she knows about things, “What is a cat?” She can follow a series of three simple instructions.

She is just five years old, five years of growth and development. This development of your child did not occur in a vacuum. It occurred within the love and support you gave her. Knowledge about child development is a great tool. It is what you do with this knowledge as you live your life and raise your children that makes the difference.

Toad House Publishing

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Development from Age 3 to 4

If you take a look at the markers of development for the three to four year old on Dr. Ireton’s map, you will see our boy being able to accomplish a great number of tasks we consider pre-academic. In social skills, he gives directions to other children and plays cooperatively with minimal conflict. He is also protective toward younger children.

Hurrah! We no longer need to tote a diaper bag because he is potty trained. Other skills in self-help development include washing his face without help and dressing and undressing without help except for tying shoelaces.

His coordination is superb, a testimony to everything working together. The gross motor markers include riding around on a tricycle using the pedals and steering. I have watched many a three to four-year-old careen around corners on two wheels of a trike and not tip over. His balance is great. He can even balance well enough to hop on one foot.

The three to four year old is intrigued with scissors, drawing materials, and paper. He can cut across a piece of paper (often with his jaw chomping up and down in rhythm to his hand manipulating the scissors!) He is beginning to draw a recognizable object, such as a circle or a face in the circle.

He is also quite a conversationalist, having mastered the connecting words of conversation such as ‘and’, ‘or’, and ‘but’. Other markers in language development point to his academic prowess. He identifies four colors correctly, counts five or more objects when asked, “How many?” and he understands concepts of size, number, and shape.

With all these new skills, your three to four year old can really enjoy and learn from the experiences you give him.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Development from 2-3

From age two to age three pretend play becomes the dominating theme in social development. Our little girl imitates us and wants to help with simple household tasks. She imitates the play of children around her and wants to play alongside other children with dolls or cars or building blocks. She loves to take a role in pretend play (the mommy, the teacher, or the driver of the car). Interestingly, from a Mr. Rogers perspective on how everything grows together, all the other markers on our developmental map in self help, gross motor, fine motor, and language skills are based upon the imitation of the behavior of others.

The markers in self-help skills from age two to three include opening a door by turning a knob, washing and drying hands, and dressing herself with help. Consider a two to three year old in an Amazon jungle society without doorknobs, clothing as we know, or sinks, soap, and towels. The two to three year old in this society would still have the drive to imitate adult behavior, but the markers to her development would be different. They may be pulling aside palm fronds to enter a living space, using a stream to wash, and putting on a beaded necklace. In other words this little girl, developing at the same pace as a western culture child, would have different makers to self-help development based upon the behavior she sees everyday in her world.

Gross motor developmental markers in this age range include climbing on playground equipment, standing on one foot without support, and walking up and down stairs with one foot per step. All of these markers require the development of strength and balance but also the drive to imitate the climbing and moving as she observes others in her world. We can imagine our rain forest child imitating the movement patterns of adults and children in her society, climbing on trees and rocks as they go about life.

Dr. Harry Ireton indicates the markers in fine motor development in our western culture include scribbling, drawing a vertical line, and making cuts with scissors. Our little girl has watched our behavior for two years as we write letters or cut coupons. No wonder that with her ability to manipulate small objects she is now driven to write and cut as we do. Our jungle child might be collecting feathers and stones to use in her art work or making grinding motions with smooth stones as she watches her mother prepare food.

Language development takes off at an unbelievable pace from now on. Our little girl talks in two to three word sentences most of the time and understands at least four prepositions such as in, on, under, and beside. She probably says NO a lot, continuing her drive toward independence. If her hearing hasn’t been hampered by the effects of secondhand smoke or other physical limitations to hearing and sound production, she has heard our words clearly and we now hear her words clearly also as the mechanics of producing sound develop. I cannot guess what our child of the rain forest is saying, but if I could hear and understand how her parents speak, I could guess at what her language would be. Whatever her language might be, she would be driven by the need to imitate those around her whom she loves and looks up to.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Development from one to two years

In the past three weeks we have looked at key markers of development from birth through age one. Our baby has achieved great things: the beginning of independent walking, the beginning of language, and the beginning of being able to take care of himself. Last week I suggested to you that your little man understands a lot of what you say, especially the phrase, “No, no.” This week we will look at how that understanding of ‘no, no’ plays itself out in the development from age one to age two.

First we will look at the markers in social-emotional development. After age one, your toddler wants to have a stuffed animal or doll in bed with him. He gives kisses or hugs and will greet people with a little wave or ‘hi’. Soon he will show sympathy to other children who he sees as hurt or sad by trying to comfort them as he has been comforted. These behaviors do not appear out of the blue. They appear because we have given him a cuddly toy when we put him to bed; we give our little guy lots of hugs and kisses; we look for him when we come into a room and say ‘hi’; and we comfort our baby when he has been hurt. He has had direct experience and he has learned from us. Of course, he also has had direct experience with the meaning of “NO” so it is natural for him to use the phrase when we interfere with his ideas. However, our mostly compliant little guy will usually stop what he is doing when we correct his behavior.

In self-help skills, most of the markers of his developmental progress are in eating. He begins to manage a cup, use a spoon and later a fork, and before age 2 he can eat with a spoon spilling only a little. “No, no” behavior is evident in self-help skills also. He insists on doing things by himself such as feeding and taking off a coat or shirt. One of our tasks as a parent is to organize time and environment so that we can happily let him take the lead.

Gross motor developmental markers center on the evolution from standing to running. He needs to run everywhere at 18 months and we run too or get left behind. By age two he can walk up and down stairs alone. Not only can he do this, he will insist upon doing it by himself, because the assertion of self is a primary force that began with that first little ‘no, no’.

Fine motor developmental markers include stacking blocks, holding two toys in one hand, scribbling with a crayon, and turning pages of picture books one at a time. This is the time to join in his play rather than telling him what or how to play. If you choose to dictate his use of blocks or crayons or books, you will trigger more ‘no, no’ and ‘ME DO’. This dictating behavior on your part will increase his need to assert himself. Instead, use side by side play. Enjoy letting him take the lead in knocking your blocks down.

Refining and expanding his communication is the focus of development on the language map. At age one he is using one word, before two he uses at least 10 words. More importantly he uses language to get what he wants. His behavior tells us that he understands far more that he can say. Give him interesting things to observe and talk about. Talk about things in his world. Keep your use of ‘no, no’ to a minimum.

When we are finished with this developmental sequence to age five, we will take a week to consider what happens to baby’s development if you dictate his play rather than join in. Next week we’ll watch and be amazed at development from age two to age three.

Toad House Publishing

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