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Q&A with Raquel Anderson: Brain development in a 12-month-old

Q&A with Raquel Anderson: Brain development in a 12-month-old

Bundoo Expert

Raquel Anderson
Bundoo Behavioral Health Specialist

Raquel Anderson has 14 years of experience as a mental health provider in institutional and private practice. Aside from her private practice, she is an advisory board member for the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County’s Be Merge Initiative.

The first year of life is one of incredible learning — if we all learned as fast and as much as babies and infants, this would be a planet of geniuses. Much of this learning, however, can seem relatively simple and fundamental. For example, it can seem like no big deal to realize that hiding an object doesn’t mean that object actually disappears, but is only hidden. In reality, however, there are many complex questions involved in learning about so-called object permanence. As your baby nears his or her first birthday, here are some of the things going on in his or her head.

Bundoo: Research has shown for many years that stress in very early childhood, whether from family stress, poverty, natural disaster, or whatever, can have a long-lasting effect on a child’s emotional development. Why is this, exactly? What’s happening in the brain during periods of stress that can have life-long consequences?

Strong, frequent or prolonged stress, otherwise known as “toxic stress” in young children, can disrupt brain development. Children are learning and developing at incredible speed. The brain develops by making and establishing neural connections. Early life events influence how the brain is wired, or how the neural connections develop. When there are new pleasant things to learn about, the brain produces connections that reinforce these experiences. When toxic stress occurs, the regions of the brain involved in fear and anxiety overdevelop and the regions dedicated to impulse control and reasoning underdevelop.

Babies around one year of age can recognize familiar faces and places, and even remember relatively complex tasks like retrieving favorite toys, but the first long-term memories aren’t typically formed until a few years later. Why don’t babies remember things that happened in their early infancy?

There are a couple reasons why we do not have memories of being a baby. During early years, babies are simply trying to make sense of the world. Memories can’t be retained until there is some level of understanding of the experience. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that retrieves memories from the various parts of the brain where the memories are stored. Since the hippocampus does not mature until about 2-4 years of age, our first long-term memories will develop at this time.

How much does nutrition and diet affect brain development at this age?

During the first year of life approximately 60 percent of nutrition is used by the brain for development. Therefore, proper nutrition is imperative during this time. Many studies show that DHA, a fatty acid, is an essential dietary component to ensure healthy brain development.

The intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a universally accepted measure of intelligence. When does intelligence first begin to develop, and when is it considered “stable?”

Intelligence is 50 percent genetic and 50 percent environmental. The genetic part is fixed. The environmental portion of our intelligence starts developing at birth. Typically intelligence scores become stable after about seven years of age.

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