Quakes can affect babies' progress, says expert

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014

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Babies born immediately after the earthquakes could be more susceptible to committing crime, domestic abuse and gambling as adults, a brain development expert says.

Nathan Mikaere-Wallis, a former human development lecturer at the University of Canterbury, said this is a worst-case scenario and work could be done to prevent it.

The first three years of life is the most important in terms of brain development and if a child has been exposed to a high-stress environment during this time, it could prevent part of the brain from fully developing.

Mikaere-Wallis, a Brainwave Trust board member, said children who went through trauma in their first three years could lack the ability to regulate their behaviour, ability to develop social skills, self-control and empathy because they had been too busy developing the survival part of their brain.

Self-control was the No 1 factor in determining whether a child would be successful in life, he said.

Mikaere-Wallis was concerned about what would happen if no extra support was made available to families and schools to help reverse the damage. "We've already got a large group of dysfunctional people. I am concerned [that] if we don't meet the needs of parents now, we are going to be dealing with the ramifications for the next 25 years."

People should not be told to "harden up, you'll be right". Primary school principals across Christchurch have noticed more children coming to school with learning issues since the quakes.

Mikaere-Wallis said children who had started school during the past two years and were two or three-years-old at the time of the quakes had done most of their brain development when the quakes hit.

He was worried that the number of children with learning issues would increase even more when those children born immediately after the quakes started turning five next year.

There would always be a percentage of children whose brain development had been negatively affected by trauma, but the quakes exposed a greater number of children to a high-stress situation.

Most primary schools were set up to deal with it, but it was likely they would need to increase that level of support from next year.

More teacher aides would also be need.

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