How traumatized children survive: Academy meeting focuses on the resilience of children
Three-day conference set for February 26-28 at Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, VAWhile news about child abuse and children suffering in the face of natural disasters regularly makes headlines around the world and stories often emphasize the need to protect children because they are the most vulnerable citizens in society, little has been said about the success of those children who manage to survive and overcome instances of abuse, poverty, war and natural disasters.
What is it about these children that make them resilient and capable of withstanding the enormous stress generated by traumatic events? For adults living in a post-9/11 world dominated by fears concerning terrorism, crime, natural disasters and other uncontrollable events, what does new research about resilience in children teach us about raising children who are better able to cope with the threat of everyday violence and other stressful events in life?
New Research into Resilience Focus of Conference
To answer these and other intriguing questions, the New York Academy of Sciences will present a three-day conference, Resilience in Children, on February 26-28 at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan International Airport in Arlington, Virginia. The event will bring together more than twenty top researchers from the U.S. and abroad who will describe how advances in neuroscience are contributing to our understanding of resilience in children.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the conference will bring together and examine the behavioral and psychosocial aspects of resilience in children (i.e., issues such as social class and race disparities; the role of genetic and environmental influences on the development of alcohol and drug addiction) and the neurobiological aspects of resilience in children (i.e., genetic, neural plasticity, emotion regulation, neuroendocrine, and intervention)
Window of Opportunity
According to Bruce S. McEwen of The Rockefeller University, a leading researcher on the effects of stress on the brain and one of the conference's organizers, the brain is strongest at certain periods in life, most notably during fetal development, in infancy, childhood (up to about age five), and in adolescence. It is during these periods, these "windows of opportunity" in which outside influences can have a profound effect on the brain and its later development.
Early intervention in cases of child abuse is particularly crucial, he notes, because "child abuse early in life may cause long-lasting alterations in brain circuits involved in memory, emotions, and decision making." If the caregiver is inadequate or abusive, young children may experience higher levels of stress hormone activation. The absence of a caregiver in early life may produce long-term changes in the child's stress-response system, leaving him or her less able to cope with future adversity.
On the other hand, caring attention from a parent, relative, or other caregiver has been found to build up a child's capacity for endurance and reduce the harmful effects of stress. In addition, a high level of intelligence, or normal cognitive development, has also been found to play a role. According to science writer Catherine Zadolla, author of a comprehensive preBriefing on the conference (nyas.org/ebriefreps/splash.asp?intEBriefID=490), "the most important individual quality [for resilience] has been found to be normal cognitive development, which may be measured in terms of good attention skills, an average or better IQ, or 'street smarts.'"
While psychology and behavioral studies have uncovered the behavioral and social influences that appear to facilitate resilience, the conference will highlight new genetic studies that are beginning to reveal whether genes and gene expression contribute to resiliency. Genes are now providing insight into an individual's resiliency potential.
New Strategies for Promoting Resilience
Researchers at the conference will also address the latest findings about the processes linking biology, brain, and behavior in resilience. Topics such as Promoting Resilience in Children and Youth: Preventive Interventions and Their Interface with Neuroscience with Dr. Mark T. Greenberg of Pennsylvania State University and Prevention of Pediatric Bipolar Disorder: Integration of Psychosocial and Neurobiological Processes with Dr. Kiki Chang of Stanford University will cover how new genetic and biochemical approaches are shedding light on issues related to vulnerability and how to promote resilience.
"This conference will be viewed as a landmark in the study of resilience in children because it brings together psychosocial researchers with researchers who study gene-environment interactions and the psychobiology of resilience," observes Ann S. Masten, a leading child development researcher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and one of the conference organizers.
The conference was organized by Barry M. Lester, Ph.D., Brown Medical School, Providence, RI; Ann Masten, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; and Bruce McEwen, Ph.D., The Rockefeller University, New York, NY
For a preBriefing of this event, visit www.nyas.org/ebriefreps/splash.asp?intEBriefID=490
Founded in 1817, the New York Academy of Science is an independent nonprofit organization of more than 24,000 members worldwide dedicated to serving science, technology, and society.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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