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A new book published by the American Academy of Pediatrics aims to make the connection between childhood experiences and lifelong health.

The book, “Thinking Developmentally: Nurturing Wellness in Childhood to Promote Lifelong Health,” is written by pediatricians Andrew Garner and Robert Saul. Saul is the Medical Director of General Pediatrics and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Prisma Health Children's Hospital (formerly known as Greenville Health System) and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine – Greenville. It presents a framework for understanding the impact of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences on development, but the information is presented in a way that makes it accessible to those in the trenches of caring for children on a daily basis.

Garner and Saul examine the needs of children and the role of parents, caregivers, the community and healthcare providers in ensuring that children have safe, stable and nurturing relationships that can help buffer the effects of toxic stress. They explore community empowerment and offer suggestions for applying developmental science to help build healthy children, nurturing families and caring communities.

“The first half is looking at the science of early brain development,” Saul said. “It looks at the whole study of adversity and toxic stress.”

Saul said there are some things that aren’t related to genes but to how the genes are turned on and off. The result may be that the consequences of early childhood experiences are adult health problems.

“We try to do a systematic overview and make it understandable,” Saul said. “We’d like to think the back half of the book would be good for parents and anyone who takes care of children. We now know that so much of what happens in childhood affects adulthood. Our society tends to break things down when someone hits that magic 21.”

Saul said adult-onset diseases are really adult-manifest diseases. The root cause can start much earlier. As a result, money spent on childhood health might yield significant rewards.

“We don’t have all the data yet,” Saul said. “We don’t have the luxury of not doing something while we wait.”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE), including abuse, household dysfunction (substance abuse, divorce, incarceration, etc.) and neglect, are not rare. And the more you have, the more likely you are to have disease as you get older. The antidote to significant adverse experiences is relational health.

“The blueprint is there for us to make a difference,” Saul said. “Our hope and dream is that people look beyond the doctor talk and see the importance of safe, stable, nurturing relationships.”

The book’s ultimate message is one of hope and support.

“Nobody is ever beyond hope,” Saul said. “Nobody is ever beyond help.”

More: Why the AAP and doctors warn parents against spanking

 

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