Monday, 6 February 2012

Epigenetics: The Science of Hope

At the 2012 Conference on the Early Years this past weekend in Vancouver, we learned many things but nothing quite as astounding as the new science of Epigenetics. Dr. Tom Boyce from the UBC institution HELP (Human Early Learning Partnership), outlined a phenominal new approach to the age old rivalry of Nature vs Nurture. While this science is in its infancy, the implications will ripple through society in a few short years. Here is a brief introduction by Dr. Boyce:

Because our genes and our environment actually interact at a molecular and chemical level, we can say that the line between child and context has become blurred (Boyce, 2012)

First of all, a couple of salient, if not discouraging statistics that remind us of the strong relationship between childhood trauma and challenges in later life:

* 50% of adult mental illnesses can be rooted in the first 5 years of childhood (Grienenberg)
* Even after controlling for IQ, high school dropout rates can be traced back to the quality of care a 3.5 year old child received - at 77% accuracy (Sroufe, 2012).

The science behind these statistics is now being borne out by studies that show how synaptic connections are impeded by trauma or toxic stress - especially in the early years.

Nevertheless, the HOPEFUL part is that through the science of Epigenetics, we are beginning to learn how the right kinds of environmental/social interventions can actually re-alter and re-compose some of these connections and processes.  Furthermore, while our genetic makeup is determined at the moment of conception - including some predispositions for anti-social behaviour -  how this DNA is "unpacked" and chemically massaged depends on our ongoing social context - both positive and negative.

In other words, Trauma at an early age does not have to mean a life sentence of societal challenges.  Of course we knew that certain programs and interventions made a difference but now we have the science to back it up and need to pursue the research that shows which interventions make the biggest difference - on a molecular level.
Click here for reference website

Once again, the successful approaches that are being developed for children that have experienced trauma, are approaches that benefit ALL students.  This is the UDL mantra.

Have a great week,

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