Dr. Perry Speaks

Dr. Bruce Perry spoke on the subject of early childhood development at the Port Hardy Civic Centre

If the large audience was any indication, early childhood development is an important issue on the North Island. Over 200 people converged on the Port Hardy Civic Centre, braving torrential rain, to hear renowned child psychiatrist and author Dr. Bruce Perry talk about bringing relational richness back into the lives of children.

“He has crossed a continent and travelled by planes, trains, automobiles and Noah’s Ark to get here this evening,” said Danielle Plummer, team leader, Child/Youth Mental Health in her introduction.Elder Maggie Sedgemore welcomed Dr. Perry to the Kwakiutl traditional territory.”The work you do is so important and we need all the help we can get,” Sedgemore said.

Dr. Perry is the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston, Texas and adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Perry presented an overview of brain development and its remarkable malleability during early childhood. He also talked about how the experiences of early childhood shape the developing brain by providing a range of social, emotional, motor, and cognitive experiences that impact the number and density of neural networks in the young brain.

“The brain allows us to absorb the accumulated and distilled experience of thousands of previous generations in a single lifetime,” said Dr. Perry. “The brain is a reflection of the world you grow up in,” he said. “How did we become so stupid about children. We think it is more important to have a fancy new car than to have a relationship with your neighbours,” he said.

Society today seems to want to raise their children to be independent, but that flies in the face of genetics and a basic need to be social creatures. “We need each other. Our physiology is influenced by the presence of other people,” Dr. Perry said. When it is absent, people “have relational poverty”. “The human brain is not designed for the modern world,” he maintains.

For instance, people are artificially prolonging the light which messes up sleep patterns. Humans historically have been hunters and gatherers, but they now have access to round-the-clock food, a lot of it fat, calorie-ridden junk, which is leading to obesity, and other diseases, because people are wired to eat until they can’t eat any more because it may be days before you “find another seal on the beach.”

Historically, a household involved between 40 and 60 households. This has now dwindled to under five which results in isolation.In the past people were spread out further. Today, there are more people living closer together, “but we’re not connected,” Dr. Perry said, which can leave moms and young families feeling isolated and alone.Modern technology is also impacting childhood development.The typical America, he said, spends 11 hours a day on digital devices; checks their phone 150 times a day; visits 40 websites per day; and has 5.9 connected devices in their home.”The world that we raise our children in today has more material goods. They are wealthy in material things, but impoverished in touch.”

In the school system, teachers teach to the mean (average student), when there are children at all learning levels.If children have problems learning or behaving “we declare that they have a disorder” such as ADHD, oppositional defiance, or a reading disorder, and “we prescribe drugs for them”. The high quality evidence shows these prescribed drugs show zero effect, tend to not work.”We still don’t catch them up,” said Dr. Perry.

Often these kids start to hang in around together, form a “gang” and turn to alcohol, then perhaps drugs to deal with the stress of not fitting in and being told every day that they are inadequate.” All of a sudden you’re in the juvenile justice system.” Thirty per cent of kids in the juvenile justice system were initially charged with truancy and put in a restrictive environment. Kids that act out are often kicked out of class, which Dr. Perry says is the wrong approach. “We should bring them in and embrace them,” he said.

In school, there are kids that “purposely act out so they get attention”, he said.”We spend billions of dollars trying to help, but because we don’t understand we end up making a mess,” he said. Children who don’t have enough social interaction and opportunities for social learning, “have underdevelopment of parts of the brain that makes them human and empathic.”

The major development of the brain takes place int he first four to five years of life. “You get your biggest bang for your buck (from) investment in early childhood education. If you in your problem-solving process include the wisdom about taking care of our youngest children and their families, we will be successful,” he said. “It’s together we can create a better future for all of our children in all of our communities. We have to figure out how to recapture the wisdom of the past an incorporate it” in early childhood.

 

 

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