In the last century, treatment of social and learning disabilities has drastically changed. Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, every student who qualifies for special education is entitled to a free and appropriate public education, delivered through an individualized education plan. An ‘IEP’ is designed through the collaboration of parents, teachers, and special education specialists. The largest category of learning disability is the specific learning disability, of which dyslexia is a typical example.
The amount of care put into special education has drastically changed the lives of many individuals, however, special education excludes those who have a learning disability due to economic situations. This reflects a longstanding social and educational belief that learning disabilities are innate, the result of genetic predisposition and not due to upbringing. The prevailing paradigm did not believe that upbringing could have a significant effect on the development on the brain.
To little surprise, neuroscience is showing otherwise.
We have always known that acute incidents can have a significant effect on brain development and function (such as in the effects of repeated physical trauma on function), but recent research is suggesting that external factors during development, including many associated with poverty, can have significant, long-term effects. These factors include higher levels of environmental toxins, lower nutritional levels, and increased levels of parental neglect. Recent research suggests that external factors, including poverty, can have significant internal effects on the brain, including brain development and function. Poverty affects the development of the brain in multiple ways, including through poverty-associated factors such as higher environmental toxins, lower nutritional levels, and higher levels of parental neglect. However, the research of Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg of Cornell University indicates that solely the added stress of low socioeconomic status is responsible for these effects.
Sometimes it can be tough to explain the research work that I am involved in right now: I can’t just say “I study the interaction between the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex” because inevitably, I get blank stares. So instead, I say “Neuroscience–brain stuff!” But I find this unfortunate: I want to be able to explain my research interests to people – even though they might be unfamiliar with neuroscience – without having to go into a 15-minute neuroanatomy lesson. But this is no fault of theirs: they have just never been exposed to the anatomy of the brain.
In grade school and high school most people are exposed to the body in anatomy classes and text-book diagrams. This tends not be true for the brain – the first time I was exposed to its anatomy was in my first neuroscience course, at a university. However, I think it is a necessary foundation for children to understand their own brains, even at a simplistic level. This is why I was excited to find that Erica Warp and Jessica Voytek have created an inspirational and fascinating children’s storybook called Ned the Neuron. It’s great to know that there are indeed ways that children can learn accurate information about the brain. And although this is a children’s book, I would recommend it to adults, too! This is certainly a step in the right direction toward bringing knowledge of neuroscience to the general public. I’ve already bought my copy!
Ned the Neuron – Erika Warp and Jessica Voytek
A Dynamic Neuron & His Dynamic Poster At Society for Neuroscience 2012 – CENtral Science