Childhood contact with healthy adults critical

Expert on youth in crisis speaks in Steamboat

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— Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading authority on children in crisis, made a special stop in Steamboat Springs on Monday for a special child -- his own daughter.

Perry, whose daughter is a student at Colorado Mountain College, took a break from his busy travel schedule and presented a special program on childhood experiences and brain development, focusing on maltreated and traumatized children, at the Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Senior fellow of Houston-based ChildTrauma Academy, Perry focused much of his discussion on the importance of having many "healthy" adults involved in the lives of children.

"The more healthier adults in the lives of your child, the healthier (your child) will be," Perry said.

Society slowly has slipped away from the large extended families prevalent in the earliest days of human existence to the current American household with an average of fewer than three members, Perry said.

The result is less human contact with developing children, Perry said. That contact is largely responsible for healthy brain growth and development because children learn and grow from firsthand experiences, he said.

Perry's work in the field of childhood experience and brain development has revealed a trend: High-risk children have significantly less contact with "healthy" humans than what normal children experience.

An example cited by Perry is the child who awakens to a sleeping mother, makes himself or herself breakfast, gets on a school bus where he or she doesn't speak with any other children, is silent and uninvolved in class and comes home to a parentless setting.

Children who develop in settings like these are often physically and mentally underdeveloped, Perry said. The longer a child is exposed to such settings, the less likely he or she will achieve normal brain development, even with specialized attention, he said.

The problem of fewer human contacts spreads to America's public education system, where 30 children often are placed in a classroom with just one teacher, Perry said. He believes that grandparents, guest teachers and other qualified "healthy" adults should be more involved in public education to provide additional human relations with the nation's developing minds.

"I really think we need to take advantage of the people out there who can mentor," Perry said. "The more innovative ways we have for getting adults involved with children, the better."

Multi-age classrooms -- such as those used in the Montessori method of education -- and smaller class sizes drastically improve child development, Perry said.

In these settings, children learn faster and more efficiently, he said.

Many local child care providers, doctors, mental health professionals and parents attended Monday's presentation.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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