From Cortex to Classroom
Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do
The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk.
Today 2 out of 1000 children suffer from cerebral palsy, 6 out of 1000 children have autism, 2 in 100 have mental retardation and 1 out of 10 children has attention deficit disorders and finally as many 1 in 5 children have some kind of a developmental problem ! Then add in the amount of children that suffer an acquired or traumatic brain injury and you have a staggering amount of children that desperately need immediate and longterm neurodevelopmental care.
Research in neurobiology has recently revolutionized what we know about brain development and the extent to which the interaction between genetics and early experience literally shapes brain architecture, but this knowledge has not been transferred to the suffering children yet and standard treatments of these conditions are only marginally successful. We therefore urgently need new ways to integrate and test new neurobiological knowledge into newly designed developmental intervention programs that will improve children suffering from developmental problems. The study of typical child development-of behavior, how to predict or change behavior, and how to recognize and intervene in learning and behavior difficulties is at the basis of any successful Developmental intervention program.
One must understand behavior in order to change it; any intervention, behavioral or medical, requires behavioral change to be successful. Further, many biological and behavioral factors interact such that understanding one enhances investigations of the other. Brain architecture is built over a succession of "sensitive periods", each of which is associated with the formation of specific circuits that are associated with specific abilities. The development of increasingly complex skills and their underlying neural circuits builds on the circuits and skills that were formed earlier. These basic principles of neuroscience and the technology of human skill formation indicate that later remediation for highly vulnerable children will produce less favorable outcomes and cost more than appropriate intervention at a younger age.
When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship.