Childhood Disorders

Blistering Education of Babies Can Help Prevent Mild Retardation


By Ed Susman
The Medical Post, March 5, 1996

BALTIMORE - Early intensive educational programs, almost from birth, can prevent children from developing mild retardation, says a University of Alabama researcher.

Several studies have called into question the effectiveness of Head Start programs that do not enrol disadvantaged children until they reach kindergarten age. "Head Start is important for helping with behavior," said Dr. Mary Blue (PhD) a neurobiologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

But Head Start programs that begin in kindergarten, she said, "are probably too late to help a child's cognitive development."

Increase IQ

Dr. Craig Ramey, professor of psychology, pediatrics, sociology and public health science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said an intensive educational program that begins with children at six weeks of age can increase IQ by 15 to 30 points. Reporting at the annual meeting here of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Ramey said that among disadvantaged children the intervention program could raise a child's IQ to at least 100 from 84.

The 100 figure is considered average for the population. An IQ of 84 means the child is in the lowest 15% of IQ scores, he said.

Drs. Ramey, Blue and other panelists said years of studies have confirmed earlier intervention for the economically disadvantaged children resulted in better outcome in intellectual development.

Small effect

Dr. Blue said human and animal studies confirmed that by the time an infant is one or two years old the chance of improving intelligence is limited. "Any improvement after age five has a small effect, is short-lived and lasts only while intervention is ongoing," Dr. Ramey said.

He said some Head Start programs are now accepting children at earlier ages, moving toward a program that identifies the children at risk of mild retardation and begins treating them closer to birth. Dr. Ramey said one in 15 children who are born into poverty level homes are at risk of developing mild mental retardation. He said more intensive educational programs that were developed in his study, including working with children at an earlier age and during summer months, can prevent retardation in these children.

The children who gain the most in these early programs, Dr. Ramey said, are those whose mothers have the lowest intelligence scores.


Copyright 1996 Maclean Hunter Publishing Limited
Reprinted with permission.

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