Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
Language delays are often diagnosed in children who are also very socially shy, but new research has found that shy toddlers may be acquiring language normally, but are less able to express themselves because of their shyness. More from a release announcing the results:
The study, conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Connecticut, appears in the journal Child Development.
“Our findings suggest that inhibited behaviors like shyness don’t hamper language acquisition overall but instead relate specifically to how toddlers express themselves through words,” according to Ashley K. Smith Watts, graduate student, and Soo H. Rhee, associate professor of psychology, both of the University of Colorado, who were part of the research team.
The study also found that girls had higher levels of both shyness and language than boys. However, the degree to which shyness was related to language development was similar for girls and boys.
Researchers collected information from 816 children in Colorado who were primarily White but varied in socioeconomic status and who were representative of the population of Boulder. Information was collected at ages 14, 20, and 24 months through parent reports and by observing children during home and lab visits. The researchers assessed expressive, or spoken, language by asking children to imitate certain sounds and words (like /ai/ and “mama”), and by asking the children to answer questions verbally. They assessed receptive, or understood, language by asking children to follow instructions (“Give me the cup and ball”).
“Shy children may need help with developing their speaking abilities,” added Smith Watts and Rhee. “They may benefit from interventions that target confidence, social competence, and autonomy to support the development of expressive language. For example, caregivers can encourage them to be autonomous and arrange play dates with compatible peers.”
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Image: Shy child, via Shutterstock
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Friday, November 1st, 2013
Children who experience poverty in early childhood are more likely to have smaller brains, as well as a lessened ability to process certain types of sensory information, new research published in the journals JAMA Pediatrics and the Journal of Neuroscience has found. More from Time.com:
Previous work suggested that poverty can contribute to compromised cognitive function and low performance in schools, but using imaging, researchers have documented measurable changes in the brain tied to poverty.
In one study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, children who grew up in impoverished households showed smaller white and grey matter in their brains compared with those who had more means — these make up the density of nerve connections between different parts of the brain. The less wealthy kids also developed smaller hippocampus and amygdala regions, which are involved in regulating attention, memory and emotions.
According to the researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the smaller brain regions may be due to the increased stress and anxiety that these children experience growing up in families where finances are tight, and therefore parental support and interaction with children suffers.
In the second study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists at Northwestern University, in Illinois, connected lower maternal education, a common symptom of poverty, to poor processing of sound in the brains of children raised in lower-resource environments. The researchers found that adolescents whose mothers had less education were more likely to register more varied and noisier nerve responses when hearing speech than those whose mothers had more schooling. That response, according to previous work, could translate into poor reading skills. The scientific team suspects that the lack of constant verbal interaction between mother and child could be one factor in the noisier brain responses to speech, since such back-and-forth can prime a still-developing brain to isolate and recognize speech more efficiently. Other data established that children in higher-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than those in lower-income families where parents have less education.
The good news, however, is that the effects may be reversible. Families don’t chose poverty, but changes in caregiving, especially during early childhood, could avoid some of the physical changes the scientists measured.
Image: Sad child, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
The longer a mother breastfeeds, the more impact she has on her baby’s brain development, according to new research published in JAMA Pediatrics. The New York Times has more on the study, which was conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School:
For each additional month a baby was breast-fed, verbal ability was higher at age 3, and verbal and nonverbal I.Q. scores were higher at age 7, the study concluded. The researchers accounted for factors like the mothers’ intelligence and employment, home environment and child care.
“One of the theories as to why breast-fed children tend to have better cognitive development is there are nutrients in breast milk that benefit the baby’s developing brain,” said Dr. Mandy Brown Belfort, a neonatologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study.
“Our results support policies that allow women to continue breast-feeding through a year of their child’s life to optimize brain development,” Dr. Belfort said.
Image: Breastfeeding mother, via Shutterstock
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