"Humans are designed to react to stress. All sorts of circuits and functions in our brains interact to get us to slam on the brakes, or duck, or hide, all in an effort to keep us safe. “We don’t wait until the lion is eating us; at the first sign of the lion, we run the hell away,” Gunnar explains. But when a child lives with abuse, neglect, or is witness to violence, he or she is primed for that fight or flight all the time. The burden of that stress, what Bruce McEwan calls “allostatic load,” can damage small, developing brains and bodies.
The presence of one loving, consistent adult that can buffer the worst effects of stress and adversity for children...But it’s hard to be attentive and responsive to a child’s stress when you are worried about being evicted and where your next meal is coming from.
Approximately one in 42 school-aged children in Minnesota and one in 59 nationally has a diagnosis of ASD. Children who have older siblings with autism are at an even higher risk of developing the condition. Using current methods, ASD is difficult to diagnose early, as behavioral signs, like social communication deficits or restricted and repetitive behaviors, aren’t usually observable until at least age two. The average age of diagnosis is about five years old in Minnesota and about four years old nationally, meaning children typically don’t receive interventions until later in their development, after the brain becomes less plastic or malleable.
“Do experiences with nature—from wilderness backpacking to plants in a preschool, to a wetland lesson on frogs—promote learning? Until recently, claims outstripped evidence on this question. But the field has matured, not only substantiating previously unwarranted claims but deepening our understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship between nature and learning. Hundreds of studies now bear on this question, and converging evidence strongly suggests that experiences of nature boost academic learning, personal development, and environmental stewardship." Psychology Today, Medium
“It’s very well documented that children in foster care often do not receive routine medical care, and about 50 percent have undiagnosed or undertreated chronic health conditions,” Eckerle says. “It’s an enormous need.”
That’s where the Adoption Medicine Clinic can help. It offers adopted and fostered children comprehensive health evaluations, which involve not only medical assessments but also screenings by experts in child psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and child life, as well as genetics and neuropsychology when warranted.
“Having all of those services available to an adopted or fostered child to get a comprehensive assessment is fairly rare in the country,” Eckerle says...“I only had the chance to do what I’ve done because I have a family and I was adopted,” Eckerle says. “When I see kids who are in the foster care system, in orphanage care, or adopted, I know they all have the chance to do well with the right tools.”
On any given day, more than 437,000 children are living in the U.S. foster care system. The AMC opened 33 years ago to help fill that need, and be a resource and advocate for children who are adopted, in foster-care and those remaining in institutional care around the world. While based in Minnesota, the clinic has worked with families from all over the world providing pre-adoption consultations, medical reviews, travel counseling, and comprehensive post-adoption care. Since its inception, providers have completed over 30,000 pre-adoption reviews for children in over 40 countries.
“Understanding their needs is the key to create loving and healthy families,” said Eckerle. “We want to heal children. Repair their bodies, repair their minds and remind them that whatever their early circumstances, that they are loved and they are wanted.”
Answers to [a number of] questions may emerge as more researchers study autism and OCD together. Just 10 years ago, virtually no one did that, says Suma Jacob, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. When she told people she was interested in researching both conditions, “top advisers in the field said you have to pick one,” she says. That’s changing, in part because researchers have come to appreciate how many people have both conditions.
Jacob and her colleagues are tracking the appearance of repetitive behaviors—which could be linked to autism or OCD—by age 3 in thousands of children. “From the brain perspective, these [conditions] are all related,” she says.
Reflection Sciences, a tech start-up created in 2014 by Institute of Child Development professors Stephanie Carlson and Phil Zelazo, recently announced a partnership with Edmentum, a global leader in online teaching and learning programs. This partnership brings together Reflection Sciences’ extensive expertise in executive functioning research and assessment with Edmentum’s long history in digital curriculum, assessments, and education consulting.
“With our strong focus on early childhood and non-profits, we were missing the chance to impact the K-12 community,” Carlson said. “Edmentum is a long-standing leader in this market and we are delighted to be complementing their academic tools with the MEFS.”
The study demonstrates the role of school-based interventions to help kids after disaster, Masten says. “I think that schools need to recognize the importance of their role, not just in an immediate crisis, but over the long term, both in supporting learning and building a capacity for resilience,” she says.
Ann Masten, who studies resilience at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota, says she’d be hopeful. “I’m optimistic that there will be a long term positive picture,” she says. “Nonetheless, it’s important to document that there could be continuing delayed concerns.”