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Research proves the young brain is learning, adapting constantly
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Since an infants brain is like a ball of clay when it comes to learning power, Cathy Estes knows the early months and years of life are crucial to future success.

Any child can have a developmental delay




            The adjacent story notes risk factors that can lead to a child’s developmental delay. However, children raised in loving and secure homes may also need help at some point.

 “There is always a possibility of any child having a disability or delay with no obvious reason,” Cathy Estes said. “But research tells us that the risk goes up when families experience difficulties, such as poverty.

“Problems in the home cause extreme stress for everyone and babies may not have their needs met by an otherwise loving parent,” she added. “This is why supporting families in their life situation is the most important thing we do.”


    EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two stories related to early childhood development and research compiled at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child.


             Since an infant’s brain is like a ball of clay when it comes to learning power, Cathy Estes knows the early months and years of life are crucial to future success.

            As children’s coordinator at Sunflower Diversified Services, Estes sees first-hand how infants and toddlers react to their environment. The brain is pliable and the degree to which it learns is phenomenal, she said.

            Recent research compiled at Harvard University indicates 700 new neural connections are formed every second in the first years of life.

            “Some brain cells are hard-wired to other cells before birth,” Estes said. “These affect heartbeat, breathing and reflexes. But other brain cells are waiting to be hooked up. Babies quickly learn that ‘if I cry, mama will pick me up and feed me.’ This new skill is hard-wired into the brain.”

            Since 85 percent of brain development occurs during the first three years of life, the importance of early learning cannot be emphasized enough, Estes noted.

            “Research proves that a child’s earliest experiences play a critical role in brain development,” she explained. “The brain is strengthened by positive experiences, especially stable relationships in a safe environment. Secure relationships are the building blocks on which all other development takes place.”

            Severe problems impair development; the greater the adversity, the greater the odds of a developmental delay.

            “Risk factors include poverty, caregiver mental illness, child maltreatment, single-parent home and low maternal education,” Estes noted. “Maltreated children exposed to other risks face a 90 to 100 percent chance of having one or more delays in cognitive, language or emotional development.”

            Physical health can suffer too.

            “Evidence now links significant adversity in childhood to increased risk of adult health problems,” Estes commented. “These include diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and some forms of cancer.”

            As Estes leads the teams at Sunflower’s Early Education Center (EEC) and Incredible Years Preschool, the staff considers all these factors.

            The EEC serves children age birth to 3. Its services are free to families and include individualized special education and therapies that help overcome or alleviate delays.

            Incredible Years is designed for children age 2-and-a-half to 5. Its curriculum includes imaginative play; social/emotional development; language, literature and communication; arts and sciences; and sensory and motor exploration. Tuition is based on income.

            Both the EEC and preschool emphasize family involvement because “the family is critical in a child’s success,” Estes said. “Some professionals new to early intervention are surprised by our emphasis on supporting family priorities. But when you think about it, we must support parents so they can help their children.

            “Everyone here relates to families in special and significant ways,” she added. “Much of our training is based on this so we can successfully meet the critical early needs of children. We strongly encourage parents to contact us with their concerns.”

            The number is 620-792-4087.

            The EEC, 1312 Patton, is part of the tiny-k infant/toddler program in Kansas. The non-profit agency’s service area includes Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. Although it is funded in part by tax revenue, it relies on private donations for its free-to-families services.