Chapter 3 Summary

Today, Erica Hayes shares:

This chapter was packed with interesting information about brain development in babies and how it impacts language development.  Here is my attempt to summarize all of the good info!

What helps a baby to achieve optimal brain development?  Nature or nurture?  Genetics or stimulation from the environment?  Well, we all know it is both.  While we are unable to change a child’s genetics, we can change the stimulation that a child receives and increase the outcomes for that child.  The author points to a couple of important factors in infancy that are important foundational pieces in increasing the child’s readiness to receive information.  First, it is important to reduce stress in the baby’s environment.  High levels of stress can increase “stress hormones” which can negatively change the make-up of the baby’s brain.  Secondly, it is important that the parent’s relationship with the child is loving and nurturing.  For those “thirty million words” to have the strongest impact on the child, the child needs to hear them in the context of a loving relationship.

A baby’s brain develops at an incredible rate.  Up to the age of three, a baby’s brain is making 700-1000 neural connections each second!  An important part of development is the pruning of the unnecessary neural connections to help the brain work more efficiently.  The period in which this happens, is the time when a baby is primed to receive environmental stimulation and have optimal learning.  Dr. Suskind explains how this period of time is so critical in her work.  She tells the story of a Palestinian family that brings their twenty-year-old son in for a cochlear implant.  She had the difficult task of being sure that the family would have “realistic expectations” for the results of the procedure.  Since this young man was well past the period of greatest neuroplasticity, he could be expected to respond to sounds, but he would no longer be able to process spoken language in the same way a toddler receiving a cochlear implant would.  Therefore, it would be unlikely that he would learn to speak.  The pathways that allowed him to process spoken language would have been eliminated in that pruning process since he was not using his brain for that purpose.  Dr. Suskind explained that it would be like if she herself went to Palestine and expected to be able to understand and speak Arabic just because she could hear it.

Dr. Suskind repeatedly tells the importance of adequate language stimulation in the early years.  Even skills that are learned much later (such as reading) are tied to that early stimulation.  Children must have the building blocks that are acquired early in life to build on for more complex, later developing skills.   Imagine the challenge that a child who is deaf and uses ASL to communicate has learning to read, when he has not heard the language nor uses the language to communicate.

When it comes to language learning, baby’s brains are wired to hear the differences in various languages.  As the neuroplasticity of their brains decreases, it becomes more difficult to process the differences in the sounds of different languages.  Parents who uses “baby talk” with their babies, help their baby learn the language by slowing and exaggerating speech.  So it is good to encourage parents to talk to their baby’s in this way.  It is also important to encourage parents to limit time in front of the TV.  While children are exposed to language while watching TV, it is clear from research that it is language that is heard during social interactions that children learn from.  Is all hope last for those children past the optimal learning period?  Research shows that in some areas, such as the processing of visual and musical information, that their can be ways to go back and optimize learning once again.  This gives hope that we can find ways to get back in an increase language learning in those children that show deficits following a lack of adequate stimulation early in life.

Thanks, Erica!

7 thoughts on “Chapter 3 Summary

  1. Karen says:

    This chapter again leaves me thinking about social language and it’s decline and the effect it has on children’s language development. We know that children learn language better during social interactions. We just need to do a better job of getting parents to understand this concept. Even with my school age children. They have seen every movie and play video games often for unsupervised hours. It is sad to think that we have to worry about stress in infants and makes me angry to think we have babies living in unloving environments and how this affects their development. I take for granted that all children are in loving, caring homes that are enriched with language and vocabulary and communication.

  2. Marie Fisher says:

    So far this book is a nice refresher of the language development course that I took in grad school. I feel like I have heard many of these facts and explanations before, but it can be easy to forget in the day to day therapy that we provide. Right now, I work primarily with middle school students. I love my schools and have grown to enjoy this age group; however, one of the things that I find myself getting frustrated with is the amount of time that has past before I am ever able to work with these students. Something that I would find enjoyable about early intervention is getting to educate parents and work with children at such a critical time period in their lives. This chapter highlights how critical early intervention is.

  3. Rache says:

    I completely agree with you, Karen! Even people in my own family will immediately pull out a cell phone and hand it to their baby to mindlessly watch something during a dinner out. The child never learns regulation, never learns how to express disappointment and wants/needs appropriately. It’s a vicious cycle.

  4. Jamie Priddy says:

    I agree with you, Marie! I love working with my middle school students, but it is easy to get discouraged when I don’t see as much progress as I do when working with my Kindergarten kiddos. This chapter is a great reminder that while we are doing the best we can as therapists, it is so much more difficult for our older students to grasp new concepts, expand new vocabularies, and use more complex sentence structure when they haven’t been exposed to it in their childhood. Especially when it isn’t being modeled at home. The brain is so fascinating and it’s a true miracle that any of us learn to use and understand language in the first place!

  5. Christine Scally says:

    I’ve been reading this on Kindle. I love Kindle because when you highlight a passage, it automatically saves that to a highlight notebook. The upshot is, you can go to the notebook and read a summary of the chapter formed from your highlights. My highlight notebook from Chapter 3 was fully the same length as the chapter itself. I highlighted everything. So much of the information about Cortisol and the Prefrontal Cortex is jibing with the professional development I have been doing in the areas of Trauma Informed Care, Social-Emotional Learning, and Prenatal Drug Exposure.
    But…the thing that I wanted to RE-highlight after reading my highlights was the study about teaching the babies Mandarin. In the study, half the babies were exposed to Manadarin interactively by a caregiver, and the other half was exposed using audio and video recordings. The babies exposed using recordings learned NO Mandarin. NONE. That’s CRAZY. Of course I have always believed and preached the importance of joint attention, parent child interaction, limited screen time etc. But I’ve always been a bit mealy about it – my attitude was, “Not the best but better than nothing.” Turns out it’s not better than nothing, it’s 100% useless.

  6. Lisa Ehrie says:

    I agree with what several others have said – I too worked with older students (high school level) for 14 years before working with mainly preschool age now for the past 4-5 years. It is so much more realistic and sometimes easier to see the significant progress with the little ones than with the teenagers. So much is forming and happening in their brains, it’s amazing! The saying that young children’s brains are like “sponges” is so true and does allow them to grasp new language concepts quicker and easier than 10 years down the line when those neuro-pathways are already set.

  7. Candra Grether says:

    Like many of the posts before mine, I agree with so many of these comments. I adore the middle and high school students I have most recently been working with but from time to time, find myself wishing I had just ONE pre-school therapy group so I could reach at least one group of students before it feels like too much precious time has passed. As for Chris’ comment about Kindle highlights, I also have so many Kindle highlights from both chapters 3 and 4. This book is full of such great information! I agree with Marie that it is a great refresher from grad school. I would love to know what non-SLPs think of the information in this book. Is this book overwhelming for someone with no prior background knowledge of language development?

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