Interview With Janet Doman-A Specialist in Infant Education and Brain Development

Susie McGee
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Janet Doman, a specialist in infant education and brain development, graciously took time to talk with LoveToKnow Baby about her new book. She is coauthor, with her father and brain development pioneer Glenn Doman, of How Smart Is Your Baby?: Develop and Nurture Your Newborn's Full Potential (Square One Publishers, 2006), which presents recent findings about how newborns learn and develop, and outlines a baby-enrichment program for new parents during the first year of their newborn's life. Doman is the director of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, whose work with brain-injured children led to vital discoveries regarding well children.

What is a science-based sensory program for infants?

At birth a newborn baby is functionally blind, deaf and insensate. These sensory pathways grow and develop based upon stimulation. The sensory pathways grow when appropriate visual, auditory and tactile stimulation is given with the proper frequency, intensity and duration. This is a science-based sensory program. As an example, the newborn baby usually has a less than perfect light reflex. The light reflex is seen when the baby is exposed to light and the pupil constricts in response to that light. The sooner this reflex matures and becomes consistent the sooner that baby will develop the ability to see outline and then detail. Both of these abilities allow the baby to see mother's face and begin to make sense of the visual world. In most babies this reflex is stimulated by accident whenever the baby is taken from darkness to light. But mother can arrange for that accident to happen with greater frequency and intensity so that the visual pathway grows more quickly in response to the enhanced stimulation. This is very easy to do and takes very little time but it can mean that the baby gains the ability to see detail weeks or months earlier than he would have done if we had relied upon accidental stimulation.

How old should an infant be to start this program?

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The program begins immediately after birth if mother and baby are both in fine form and ready to start.

How does it improve brain development in infants?

The brain grows by use. The brain grows explosively between conception and age six. Learning is an inverse function of age. The younger the baby is, the faster he will learn. If the baby is provided with visual, auditory and tactile stimulation with increased frequency, intensity and duration and given enhanced mobility, language and manual competence opportunity he will develop more rapidly in all areas. This will increase his overall understanding of the world around him and greatly increase his interaction with his family. His happiness, health and general well-being are also significantly improved by this stimulation and opportunity.

How can parents help maximize their baby's motor skills?

Opportunity to move. The modern baby has very little time to move. He spends his whole day in devices that restrict or totally prevent movement. Babies spend too much time in backpacks, car seats, play pens, walkers, strollers and other restrictive devices. The baby needs the maximum amount of time on a warm, clean, safe floor where he can experiment and find out how to use his arms and legs to crawl. Once he can do so, he needs to be able to crawl on his belly as much as possible. He will then learn how to creep much more rapidly. We need to stop bundling him up in layers of blankets and clothing that prevent him from moving. We should make his environment warmer so he does not have to wear more than a t-shirt and a diaper. At this stage we should live on the floor with the baby. Floor babies sleep better, eat better and are healthy, happy babies because they have the daily physical program they need and want.

When should a parent be concerned about the development of a child's motor skills?

There is not a quick or easy answer to this question. One of the primary reasons we have written How Smart is Your Baby is to provide parents with a Developmental Profile. Parents can actually measure exactly where the baby is in vision, auditory competence, and tactile competence. The Developmental Profile shows how the motor pathways are developing as well. Parents can measure how the baby is developing in mobility, language and manual competence. If the baby is behind in any of these areas, parents have a clear program to follow to provide enhanced stimulation and opportunity. If parents provide that program, and still do not see improvement in the baby, then they should seek professional help to find out what may be slowing or stopping the baby's development.

How can parents help their children's language skills develop?

When you grow one area of the brain, to some degree all areas will be enhanced. An overall program of stimulation and opportunity will very much help language development. Newborns have very poor respiration at first. This makes it hard to make sounds at will. As the baby sees better, he wants to move more, so he does move. As he moves more, his respiration is improved. As he is able to breath better, he makes more sounds. The more sounds he makes, the more mother responds to these sounds. The more mother and baby talk to each other, the sooner mother breaks the sound barrier and understands what the baby is actually saying. Babies are desperate to be understood. Most babies will not be understood until they are 12 to 14 months old. This process should occur by 3-4 months instead. What a difference this can make in the quality of a tiny baby's life and the life of mother and father!

What is a language development program, and how can a child benefit from it?

The sounds a baby makes are not like language, they are language. Here are some Language Do's and Donts:

Language Dos

  1. Always listen to the baby.
  2. Look as if you are listening.
  3. Be willing to wait for a response.
  4. Accept the fact that the baby decides whether to respond or not; it is his choice.
  5. Respond to what he says.
  6. Welcome enthusiastically every effort the baby makes to talk.
  7. Assign meanings to the specific sounds that baby says repeatedly.
  8. Use real words when talking to the baby.

Language Don'ts

  1. Never use baby talk with the baby.
  2. Never ignore the baby.
  3. Never ask a question and leave no time for him to answer.
  4. Never neglect to answer him.
  5. Never imitate or make fun of the sounds he makes.
  6. Never correct his pronunciation.
  7. Never try to force him to answer or respond.

Points to Remember

  • Language development is dependent upon good, regular and mature breathing.
  • The baby is desperate to talk to mother and he will use every means available to do so.
  • The sounds a baby makes are not like language, they are language.
  • When the baby knows you are listening, he will communicate as often as possible.
  • Listen to your baby and answer him. This is what he wants. It is vital for your baby to know that you know that he is talking.

What are some useful parenting tips for new parents?

  • Be a professional. Mothering and fathering are the most important professions in the world. Don't apologize, Don't compromise, and don't be bullied into anything you do not understand or with which you do not agree. You know your own child better than anyone else.
  • Be organized. Mothers have a huge job often with little or no real help. Make a plan, and make reasonable weekly goals.
  • Be consistent. Whatever you decide to do with your baby, do it every day.
  • Be flexible. Change your battle plan when the situation demands it. Have a back-up plan.
  • Stay home. This is especially important in the first three months. Try to limit errands to once a week.
  • Make the morning sacred. This is the golden time for your baby. If you must leave the baby with another on a daily basis make sure it is the afternoon. Do everything in your power to ensure that you and your baby have every morning together.
  • Household perfection takes a back seat to the baby.
  • Eat properly. Mothers never do!
  • Sleep properly. Almost all mothers of very young children have chronic sleep deprivation. All fathers know this! Start by getting one extra hour every night no matter what. ( Father will help you, he is already worried about this.) It will take 6 to 8 weeks to begin to feel completely different. Now that you feel better get more sleep. Watch your creativity blossom, and your sense of humor return in tack. Not a moment too soon. You are going to need it when the baby starts walking!

More Information

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You can find out more about Janet Doman and her work at The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.

Interview With Janet Doman-A Specialist in Infant Education and Brain Development