Child DevelopmentChild development refers to the emotional, physical, and mental changes that occur in a child in the early years of his or her life. Changes during this time are drastic and far more significant than any other time. The development of the brain will create personality characteristics, learning abilities/disabilities, and language skills. It will also determine what the child’s brain will be capable of later in life, as unused synapses are pruned away.
Child development starts at conception. The health of the mother and her environment can have very noticeable affects on the health of the fetus. Some birth defects due to environmental factors can occur before a mother even conceives. For example, low folic acid levels in a mother at conception can lead to the child developing a condition called “Spina Bifida” in the womb. It is because of this that hopeful parents are advised to begin taking prenatal vitamins and raising their level of health consciousness before attempting to conceive.
After a child is born, development continues at an amazing rate. At only one month old a child is able to make memories (though not for very long.) They begin to imitate sounds at just two months, and can start responding to language at 4 months. This early language development is crucial. Parents and caregivers should be encouraging and indulging these language skills from the start. At around 12 months children
begin to produce their own language, repeating key familiar words. At the end of 2 years, most children are speaking in full sentences. Environmental factors, exposure, and encouragement are vital for children to progress at this healthy rate.
So what happens when a child doesn’t have a physically healthy womb for prenatal development, or lacks the exposure and social environment necessary to develop properly? These sad and rare cases are known as “feral children.” Most often they are born with a physical or mental impairment that takes patience, time, and effort. Some unlucky children are born into caregivers that do not have these qualities. As a result the child is often abandoned, and neglected. This lack of socialization, or “enculturation” greatly affects the growth of social and language skills.
This abandonment can have a drastic affect on the physical health of child. There is a case of one child in particular named Genie, who appeared to be 6 years old at the age of 13. Other children raised in the company of animals learn to run as fast as a standing man while crouched on all fours.
If this isolation occurs during a key early developmental stage, it can have devastating affects on the brain. During the early years, a child’s brain is flooded with and excess of synapsesDue to the different social and environmental surroundings of the child, some of these unused synapses are pruned away to allow the used ones to grow. If a child is not introduced to language, their synapses for this skill are pruned away. This means that not only do they not develop language as children; it is also nearly impossible to learn it in the future. This is why adults may find it so difficult to learn a second language, while their child slides by with not struggle at all. Adults lack the synapses!
These cases, though rare and extreme, are a prime example of how encouragement and socialization play such an important role in language development.