Children: The Mini Adults of The Future

Children's agile ability to adapt can be a way for adults to understand and change. Courtesy of Beaumont Health

A child’s world is infinite. From the day a child enters the world, their brains are constantly making connections. These connections help create what we, as adults, see as normal functions of the human body. A child simultaneously intakes information not only given from their surroundings, but from an instinct embedded in their brain, and uses these phenomena throughout their growth. As children develop their newfound skills, such as motor skills, language acquisition, and social communication, there is a crucial period in which a child’s development is sensitive. External circumstances, defects, and societal change can alter or delay a child’s progress in obtaining language skills and could result in long-term effects well into adulthood. While children progress through there education, external circumstances and long-term effects can vary depending on the child. Studying the ways children communicate can help give clarity for adults in how to adjust and learn different forms of communication to interact better with their surroundings.

The very beginning of a child’s life is intriguing to say the least. As children grow, their minds make connections, expand ideas, and grasp theories that all indicate a higher stimulus that seems inexplicable. When a baby, probably between 6-8 months, begins to “babble,” 1 that is when a child demonstrates understanding and recognition of sounds that they have been hearing around them. This moment is part of the process of language acquisition; it is when a human recognizes and understands language. “Language we hear can have a strong effect on the ways that we understand the world.”2 All humans talk.3 Language is an essential part of human life.

At birth, a human’s brain uses neurons and synapses to develop connections; those connections form and help create the wonder of how the brain works. Tons of these synapses work to help a child develop and gain skills. A child between the ages of nine months to two years (depending on the child) has about 50% more synapses than the adult.4 The peak for synapses is age four and levels around age seven (of course, remember, every child is differen), and these processes do not necessarily occur on the same timeline in every child. As we age, synapses start to deplete from our brains. It takes adults more time and effort to learn different forms of communication then a child in their early stages of learning. 5 While still in the early staged of childhood, children have an ability to adapt to different forms of language, almost as an instant reaction. Children’s adaptation is quite agile during the ages of three and seven, which is called the critical period. The critical period is a timeline in a child’s brain development and growth in which it is easy to acquire an ability, which, if not mastered, becomes difficult to obtain in later years.6

A child’s development milestones through the ages of 3 months to 5 years. Courtesy of Verywell / Joshua Seong

As children, our brains are like sponges; we can absorb knowledge from our surroundings, and, if mastered during the critical period, it can be carried into adulthood. One of these specific types of knowledge is communication. Adults struggle with communication as they get older, yet children can change and expand their communication easily. As adults, we grow and forget the beginning process of learning language. We forget how we acquired the ability of language because it comes so naturally.7 Every child is different, and every child has their own way of grasping what is being taught to them. Throughout our life, we carry our communication line, and, as we grow, we develop it. For children, there can be multiple occurrences and situations that affect their ability to learn. In the critical period, children could be subjected to external factors that could alter the way they develop. These external factors may affect the way they communicate their needs throughout their development.8 External factors vary depending on the specific circumstance of the child. Those factors can eventually lead to communication problems as adults. These specific experiences can have profound impacts on one’s communication line.

In creating our communication, we begin the stages with body movements. Babies tend to use their body parts, most commonly their feet, to try and communicate their needs and wants. Body movements correlate with the babble phase,9 and we then proceed into the acquisition of grammar during the critical period. This is where communication starts to mold into the individual’s communication line. Some say we create our communication line from what has affected us and there are others that say there is a programmed process of language that is biologically embedded into our brains.10 This is called Nature vs. Nurture debate. Nature is the view of language as a natural instinct of all humans.11 Humans are wired with the ability to communicate. Nurture argues that language must be learned. Darwin even concluded that the human language is the same as the instinct to acquire art.12 Communication is not quite so easily defined.13 To establish a definition we need to remember, communication is endless. An example to imagine is a scene from the movie Avatar. In the movie, there is a doctor named Dr. Grace, who studies neurology and connections. There is a moment in which she has to explain the interactions that the native people have with the land.14 When the doctor describes the trees and shows an analysis of these “connections,” those connections could be visualized as our own human communication lines.

Avatar is a world made with connections through living creatures. Those lines were displayed and described in the movie by Dr. Grace. Those connection lines can be shown as an example of humans and their own communication lines. Courtesy of Todd McGowan

 

In truth, both nature and nurture are correlated. Communication lines grow as we do. As humans we crave communication. Language is tightly woven into human experiences.15 It is so tightly woven, that communication is our natural ability to interact with anything among our world. Humans will even talk to themselves. Nurture is also intertwined with communication nature. Nurture consists of the external factors that affect an individual and affect our language acquisition. External factors can include traumatic events that can give a child life-long problems.16 According to information from the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children, Youth and Families, 2005, “every year approximately 1 million infants, children, and adolescents”17 are victimized. Victimization is defined as being the recipient of an abusive action, including abuse and/or neglect, in life-long experiences or in single interactions. Importantly, every child is different, and every child reacts differently.

The effects of being victimized can affect a child neurologically and psychosocially.18 There are individuals who can move past being victimized as they grow, yet there are others who create dysfunctional or addictive behaviors that build into their cycle of living.19 These cyclical behaviors can seem so natural to individuals that most of the time they don’t realize what is specifically causing them, and this affects their communication line. When children are victimized, that initial act can create an array of behavioral manifestations.20 Specifically in language, if a child is shown to have academic difficulties, it could result from a traumatic event. Most often, behaviorial issues overlook the blocked communication line, but these behaviors can influence children’s issues in language.21 Each age group has a different range of behavioral modifications that correlate difficulties in communicating their needs. When unable to express themselves, children build behavior issues that shape the way they communicate and, without proper analyzes, can carry the issues well into adulthood. Understanding youth and their development is important because it helps distinguish the differences in the cause(s) of blocked/delayed language development.

Trauma can affect the way a child communicates their needs and emotions. Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic

Anomalies or delays in language development
are important indicators in distinguishing another form of communication issues amongst children.22 Children with disabilities have notable characteristics that pertain to problems with communication. Disabilities affect a child’s ability to process information and can cause delays in development, specifically communication. The difficulty in understanding the child’s communication line depends on the particular disability. Each disability manifest its own manner of cognitive skills that relate to language development in a unique and often not well understood
manner.23  With disabled children, adults seem to adjust to the difficulty or at least attempt to without hesitation. Yet, with victimized children, adults consider this issue to be behavioral and there may be less initiative to understand the communication line affected by victimization. Teachers, researchers, and scientists make it their life’s work to understand. But when you take a look at the “average” individual, who could even have communication issues themselves, their natural instinct is to try and connect with another communication line, in any way possible.

Recently, I met a man whose brother was disabled with Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder with cognitive impairment, which can cause physical and intellectual delays from birth.24 As our conversation became an interview, I learned that the man was in his early 20’s, from a rural background that would be considered less than prestigious. Both his father and his brother’s father were incarcerated. But, as I discovered, this individual had a strong motivation to understand how to communicate with his brother. This young gentleman’s instinct was to connect with his brother’s communication line, and what’s astonishing was his response to me. He connected his initiative to understand his brother as, “That’s who I have, he’s family. I’m the only person he has.” As I listened, I realized that I had initially underestimated this individual, based on his background. I asked next, “How do you communicate with him?” and he explained to me that his brother understands his English. He speaks clearly, his brother hears and understands English, but his brother only responds in sign language. He proved this, by signing a response to the question “Do you know sign language?” This gentleman took the initiative to learn sign language in an effort to connect to his brother, while using his natural instinctive and adaptable communication line. At this moment, he had succeeded in intertwining nature vs nurture. This gentleman used the nurture of family attributes and combined it with the urge of communication lines trying to connect.

That adaptation in children, observed in this gentleman’s desire to adapt to his brother, is an ability that most adults forget how to use as they age. A human’s communication line seems to be the most fragile out of all the abilities a of which the human brain is mentally capable. Children can re-teach adults how to communicate better. As a child, the communication line is agile and adaptable. Children find ways to connection with other children despite developmental delays during childhood. As adults there needs to be a reminder that our communication line is still adaptable. Whether it’s in becoming a parent or in the initial interaction with any child, adults must understand their communication line and remember how to reform the adaptability. When an adult interacts with a child, they specifically must change and emulate the communication of the child to be able to infer and suggest what the child is trying to communicate. That same adaptability should be re-taught to adults, in an effort to form better communication lines between adults and children, the mini adults of the future.

To the man I met at Social Spot. I may have not gotten your name, but I thank you for talking about your family. It was an honor to be humbled by your experiences. I underestimated you and this article is dedicated to you and your brother. Thank you, truly.

  1. Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Psychology. Worth Publishers. http://archive.org/details/psychology0000scha
  2. Bowerman, M., Levinson, S. C., & Levinson, S. (2001). Language acquisition and conceptual development. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Gleitman, L. R., Osherson, D. N., & Liberman, M. (1995). An invitation to cognitive science: Language. MIT Press.
  4. Gleitman, L. R., Osherson, D. N., & Liberman, M. (1995). An invitation to cognitive science: Language. MIT Press.
  5. Gleitman, L. R., Osherson, D. N., & Liberman, M. (1995). An invitation to cognitive science: Language. MIT Press.
  6. Putnam, F. W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 57(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-6988.2006.tb00110.x
  7. Pinker, S. (2000). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. HarperCollins.
  8. Streeck-Fischer, A., & Bessel, A. van der Kolk. (2000). Down will come baby, cradle and all: Diagnostic and therapeutic implications of chronic trauma on child development. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34(6), 903–918. https://doi.org/10.1080/000486700265
  9. Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Psychology. Worth Publishers. http://archive.org/details/psychology0000scha
  10. Pinker, S. (2000). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. HarperCollins.
  11. Pinker, S. (2000). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. HarperCollins.
  12. Putnam, F. W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 57(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-6988.2006.tb00110.x
  13. Littlejohn, S. W., & Foss, K. A. (2007). Theories of Human Communication (9th ed.). Wadsworth.
  14. Cameron, J. (Producer & Director), & Landau, J. (Producer). (2009). Avatar (motion picture). Twentieth Century Fox.
  15. Pinker, S. (2000). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. HarperCollins.
  16. Gabowitz, D., Zucker, M., & Cook, A. (2008). Neuropsychological assessment in clinical evaluation of children and adolescents with complex trauma. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma1(2), 163-178. https://doi.org/10.1080/19361520802003822
  17. Putnam, F. W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 57(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-6988.2006.tb00110.x
  18. Putnam, F. W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 57(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-6988.2006.tb00110.x
  19. Putnam, F. W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 57(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-6988.2006.tb00110.x
  20. Gabowitz, D., Zucker, M., & Cook, A. (2008). Neuropsychological assessment in clinical evaluation of children and adolescents with complex trauma. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma1(2), 163-178. https://doi.org/10.1080/19361520802003822
  21. Gabowitz, D., Zucker, M., & Cook, A. (2008). Neuropsychological assessment in clinical evaluation of children and adolescents with complex trauma. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma1(2), 163-178. https://doi.org/10.1080/19361520802003822
  22. Dolan, T. R. (1997). Overview: Communication processes and developmental disabilities. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 3(4), 279–281. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2779(1997)3:4<279::AID-MRDD1>3.0.CO;2-J
  23. Dolan, T. R. (1997). Overview: Communication processes and developmental disabilities. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 3(4), 279–281. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2779(1997)3:4<279::AID-MRDD1>3.0.CO;2-J
  24. FAQ and facts about Down Syndrome. (n.d.) Global Down Syndrome Foundation. https://www.globaldownsyndrome.org/about-down-syndrome/facts-about-down-syndrome/

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Micheala, I really enjoyed reading your article! This article was extremely informative, but it also felt personal because of the story you added. I think adding your own personal experience and meeting with the guy and his brother at the Social Spot was a great addition to the article. I believe that it helped elevate your main point of the article. Additionally, it was really unique to put more of your own voice that a lot of articles haven’t done.

  2. Hello Michaela! I really enjoyed reading your article and I think it’s something that anyone could benefit from looking over at least once. I like how your article as a whole is reminding people that every child is different and because of this will learn and speak at different levels and paces throughout their life. I think oftentimes, adults tend to judge children and speech based off an unfair comparison to their own abilities to speak, not taking into account age and other various factors. It is our job to guide children and encourage them, and it is also our job to better understand the general process of learning for children. It is information that can be useful for a wide variety of jobs as well as if somebody has a child of their own one day. Thank you for this amazing article with such critical information!

  3. Micheala, I loved your article! It is extremely important to keep children’s learning abilities in mind. One thing that stood out to me was the concept of communication lines. Your example with the film “Avatar” and their way of communicating made me understand the concept better. I also hope you get to meet that man again. It is amazing how small interactions with strangers can open so many doors for new knowledge and learning about the world around us.

  4. What a wonderful story of the two brothers. This article hallmarks what it means to have a genuine interest in the subject one is researching. It is incredible just how much a little patience and flexibility can do in terms of communication.

  5. I really liked reading this article! I took Dr. Peace’s language class so I feel connected to this article. Children really are incredible. There is a critical learning period where children absorb the most knowledge and I see this everyday in my little brother. For example, nowadays I am trying to learn a new language but I face alot of difficulty in doing so. Meanwhile my brother learned a new language during the critical period time frame as well as new instruments and he picked both hobbies up without any struggle.

  6. Hi, I loved reading this article! It was so fun to learn about the different stages of a child’s brain, and how important each stage is for the language process. Reading about the nature v.s nurture theory really caught my attention because I have always wondered how important the way you talk to your child. Another part of your article that was really interesting to read about was how disabilities can make a huge difference in a persons ability and how impactful it can be on their linguistic abilities.

  7. Hi Micheala,

    I think your research led you down a very interesting topic. It is very important that when children are young that we nurture them and protect their young minds when they are in the developing stage. A child can learn alot and as someone who is majoring in education, I take this very seriously as to what my role as a teacher will be. I know as a teacher we will be relied upon to be that bridge between parents and their kids away from home. As I learned today in one of my education classes we need all four settings for a child and a school be successful, we need parents, the administration, the teachers and the kids to be able to set the kids up for the future.

    I also enjoyed reading how you related everything back at the end to young man who need to communicate with his brother with down syndrome, How since they only had each other that they had to come up with a way to talk to each other and how the little brother learned sign language to help him and help him self in the process cause now he has a skill that will help him in his adult life when he gets out inot the real world.

    I think you did an amazing job and I am glad I got to read your article.

  8. Hello Micheala! Your article is amazing! I’m majoring in Interdisciplinary Language Arts & Reading because I want to become an Elementary school teacher, and reading about how the brain of Children works was interesting. It’s impressive how the brain of Children works and how capable they are of learning new things and skills at such a young age. I loved the story you shared with us about the man and his disabled brother. It was a reminder of what adults are capable of doing even though we may think learning a new skill is difficult. Great job!

  9. ¡Gracias, Micheala! I love your passion for children, and, more than that, your absolute and total respect for who they are at every stage of their lives. You are in awe of the tiniest humans and of what they can do. I hope that others read this article and come to the same conclusion, that children are amazingly flexible in their speech, and that we, as adults, would do well to try to emulate this flexibility in communicating with others. Flexibility, openness, and the willingness to try new things and take risks in speaking would make for, I think, a more open and accepting society (as I would say that you yourself know in your learning of Spanish!). I hope that the man that you met eventually finds this article!

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