October 2018

A Prescription for Talk and Interaction

At the TMW Center, we believe that parents are the primary drivers of their children’s foundational brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also acknowledges the impact of parent talk and interaction on children’s developing brains, as evidenced by their Agenda for Children, a statement that encourages pediatricians to support parents so that they may provide a “rich and responsive language environment” for their children.

Our recently published op-ed in the journal Pediatrics, however, asserts that pediatricians do not always engage parents in conversations regarding language and brain development. Talk, Read, Sing: Early Language Exposure as an Overlooked Social Determinant of Health, written by Pritzker Medical School students Danielle LoRe and Peter Ladner, along with Dana Suskind, MD, makes the case that pediatricians can and should buck this trend and, in doing so, help prevent disparities in brain development and school readiness.

The piece was inspired by LoRe’s experience on her pediatric rotation. She observed how her Resident thoroughly covered the first nine items on the postpartum discharge list with parents – but noticeably skipped the last point, “Talk, read, and sing to your baby.” “I wondered if her omission came with an implicit prioritization,” LoRe writes. “Not talking, reading, or singing to a newborn is, admittedly, less life-threatening than most recommendations on the newborn discharge list.” LoRe, however, soon learned just how vital these activities are to the healthy development of very young children.

Fast-forward several months to Suskind’s office where LoRe is now in the middle of a research year at TMW. She recounts this story during a meeting to discuss plans for a new Continuing Medical Education (CME) program for pediatricians and a lightbulb goes off in Suskind’s head.

“As pediatricians, we all know the critical importance of this issue, but the demands of each pediatric visit are such that it often gets overlooked,” says Suskind. “Danielle’s powerful story was a reminder of the need to catalyze the next generation of medical students and pediatric residents.”

To that end, the op-ed advances two key ideas: 1) rich early language environments are a critical and malleable social determinant of health and 2) pediatricians and the healthcare sector play a pivotal role in helping families understand the science and strategies that foster foundational brain development.

According to the authors, “By elevating the importance of foundational brain development as a public health issue that impacts all children, pediatric trainees can help shape parent investment.”

Click here to read the full feature.