In most of the world, brain development in children is considered normal. However, a small percentage of children will encounter brain damage during the developmental years. These brain injuries can be caused by several factors such as trauma, infections, and diseases. Brain injuries happen when brain cells are affected or destroyed due to an accident or disease. Other brain related injuries include seizures and severe head injuries that cause permanent damage to the brain.
Healthy brain development in children usually starts at birth. New neurons are born every month inside of the mother’s uterus. With each passing month, more new neurons are produced until birth. After birth, the newborn baby begins to absorb nourishment from the mother’s womb through the placenta until they are weaned. The child will need certain components of the mother’s womb to survive such as oxygen, nutrients, and antibodies. Therefore, the brain continues to grow and develop throughout the months of pregnancy.
As the child continues to grow, new neurons are produced in the brain. This process is called neurogenic hyperemia. New neurons are not produced or created immediately in the brain. Neurogenic hyperemia is caused by environmental factors or brain injury that occur before normal brain development occurs.
The brain consists of the central cortex and the dentate gyrus. The central cortex is the outer layer of the brain and is responsible for our verbal and non-verbal skills. The dentate gyrus is the second layer and is responsible for memory, language, and perception. Development of the neurons in these two areas occurs in various stages during childhood and into early adulthood.
Plasticity refers to how the brain grows and develops throughout life. We typically think of plasticity in relation to adults. However, humans are developing brain cortex and dentate gyrus at a much younger age than most people realize. During the first year of life, human babies look and move very much like their parents.
The first years of human life are critical to brain development. Babies learn through imitation and through observational learning. They depend on their parents to teach them what they learn through sight, touch, and hearing. Their brains develop through the natural development process and new connections are formed every day. These early years of brain development, or neurogenesis, contribute to human intelligence and reasoning ability.
As a child matures, brain regions such as the temporal lobe and the perirhinal cortex continuously develop. The temporal lobe contains regions of specialized function such as speech and language. The language center of the brain is located in the left side of the cerebral cortex. The perirhinal cortex is the center of visual processing. Areas of the brain stem that control body movement oriented thought are located in the left and right sides of the cerebral cortex, respectively.
Early life experiences can have lasting effects on brain development and function. It is important for parents to provide a healthy environment for their children during the earliest years of life. A healthy brain develops quickly but it takes time for it to develop normally. Healthy brain development in children requires special care from the very beginning. If parents can avoid toxic stress, such as the effects of environmental toxins such as chemical and alcohol toxicity during the early childhood years, the effects of these toxic stressors on brain development will be lessened and children will grow at a normal rate with no health risks.
Environmental factors such as toxic stress contribute to abnormal brain development in children. These factors include exposure to harmful chemicals, such as those found in household cleaners, pesticides, and industrial waste, and the effects of toxic stress from earlier life experiences. Other environmental factors include nutrition, smoking, air pollution, ultraviolet light, and household chemicals. During the early years of life, when developing brain plasticity is most likely to occur, the environment plays a big role in determining the health and well-being of the brain’s plasticity.
Plasticity in brain areas such as the cerebellum helps the brain to take its own natural course through life. Neurons in these brain regions grow and connect with other neurons to form networks that allow the brain to perform many functions. The more plasticity there is in these brain regions, the better the brain functions and the more it is able to adapt to its surrounding environment. Through the years, the amount of plasticity decreases as the child approaches the age of three, but there are ways to increase the brain plasticity during the toddler years.
During the toddler years, new neurons are produced in the brain’s cellular processes as the brain continues to develop. Neurons can be generated from existing brain cells (neurogenesis) or they can be generated from new neurons (neuroprogenesis). New neurons produced from existing brain cells is referred to as neurogeneration, while generating new neurons from scratch is referred to as neuronal remodeling.