Category Archives: Institute of Child Development

Parenting Results from Transition Study

Mother lifting baby into the air and smiling

 

By Kalsea Koss and Jamie Lawler

Parents are the most important people in young children’s lives. They comfort them, care for them, and help them learn and grow. Lots of research has shown how parenting affects kids raised in their families of origin, but we wanted to look in particular at parenting in internationally adopting families. We wanted to see how it may be similar or different than other families and to see how parenting affects the recovery children make following adoption. Our team was especially interested in which aspects of parenting might help adopted kids learn to control their behavior and emotions. We also know that parenting is a hard job (maybe the hardest job of all!) and we were curious whether it was more challenging to parent a child who had tougher experiences before adoption. Finally, we wanted to see whether the consistency of family routines, such as meal times and bedtimes, helped children learn better self-control.

What we did:

We examined parenting and the family environment as part of the Transition into the Family Study. If you remember from past newsletters, the Transition Study was a multi-year project following children adopted from institutions, seeing them every eight months for the first several years that they were in their families. These initial years are a period of rapid recovery from pre-adoption deprivation for children who lived in orphanages or other institutions. To look at parenting, we asked families to come to our research lab to participate in a number of different activities four times over the first two years post-adoption. Activities included playing normally as they would at home, structured play activities (like making a scene using Playdoh), and cleaning up toys together. We also asked parents to complete several daily diaries to get a sense of the typical day for the children at home. To measure how well children recovered following adoption, we looked at how well they could regulate their behavior when asked to transition between tasks at the four laboratory visits, how children performed on a number of tasks designed to challenge their attention and self-control, and asked parents and the child’s kindergarten teachers to complete a number of questionnaires about their behavior and functioning.

Who participated:

145 families, including 93 families who had adopted a child internationally from an orphanage or other institution were part of this portion of the study. We also followed children adopted internationally from foster care situations, but these children and their families are not a part of this analysis.

What we found:

First, we looked at the quality of parenting received by children adopted out of institutions compared with children reared in their birth families. We found that parenting did not differ between the groups on either sensitivity (the parent’s ability to respond effectively to the child’s cues in a way that supports the child, encourages emotional development, and promotes the child’s confidence that their needs will be met) or structure/limit-setting (the parent’s ability to produce predictable experiences and expectations for the child as well as structure the child’s behavior). We also found that both groups demonstrated above average parenting.

Second, we wanted to see whether children’s pre-adoptive care would predict the parenting they received after adoption. We found that children adopted from higher quality pre-adoptive care received higher rates of sensitivity and more effective structure/limit-setting from adoptive parents. This may be because these children were able to provide clearer signals of their needs and wants. We were also curious how child behavior and parenting would affect one another in the first year following adoption and found that child behavior soon after adoption does NOT predict later parenting, but a parent’s ability to provide structure and set limits soon after adoption predicts how children are able to regulate their behavior 8 months later.

Next, we wanted to look past the first year after adoption and see how parenting affects children’s self-control in kindergarten. We found that better parent structure/limit-setting predicted children’s self-control on several different tasks. Children who had received more effective structure and limit-setting from parents were better able to control their impulses when asked to use their words rather than their hands to select a toy prize. They also did better on a computer game that asked them to pay attention to certain things and ignore others. These children also showed better ability to regulate their emotions in kindergarten.

Finally, children who receive poorer preadoption care are more likely to have lasting problems in impulse control and attention regulation. Because of this, we were interested in whether parenting might affect the connection between poor pre-adoptive care and later child functioning. We found that children who received high quality parenting did not show the same lasting effects of poor early care as children who received less ideal parenting. Because parents in our study generally displayed “better than average” parenting, this finding suggests that children who experienced more adversity before adoption needed really good, not just good parenting in order to recover. For example, children whose parents scored really high in their ability to structure the environment and set limits showed good emotion regulation regardless of their pre-adoptive adversity, whereas children whose parents scored in the average range on these aspects of parenting struggled more in regulating their emotions if they had experienced more pre-adoption adversity. Additionally, children in families with very consistent daily routines (for example, the same meal times and bed times each day) who had experienced poor care before adoption showed better ability to wait for a surprise and showed fewer ADHD symptoms than children adopted from similar circumstances whose families had less consistency in routines. Consistent routines did not seem to help with indiscriminate friendliness. In fact, for children adopted from more adverse pre-adoption conditions, greater consistency in routines predicted more indiscriminate friendliness. We are not sure why this might be the case, but it does suggest that stability in routines may help some aspects of recovery from pre-adoption condition but slow others.

Women and Infants Study of Health, Emotions, and Stress (WISHES)

By Colleen Doyle

Midwife Ann Forster Page, a collaborator of the WISHES research project, examines a patient at the Women’s Health Specialists Clinic.

What makes us who we are? Historically, great debate has surrounded this question. Some have said it’s the genes we inherit at conception. Others have pointed to the environment we experience in childhood. Today, there is growing evidence that many of our individual characteristics—including our temperaments, our intelligence, and our mental and physical health—may be influenced by the interplay of our genes and the prenatal environment that we experience before birth. The goal of our new WISHES study (the Women and Infants Study of Health, Emotions, and Stress) is to learn more about how women’s experiences during pregnancy may “get under the skin” of their developing children to influence their brain development, behavior, and health.

Why are we studying prenatal experiences? All women experience some amount of stress and mood swings during pregnancy. However, a growing body of research has linked different levels of these “prenatal stress” experiences to both positive and negative outcomes for women and their developing children. For example, mild levels of prenatal stress have been linked to enhanced motor and cognitive development in infancy. In contrast, more intense or chronic experiences of prenatal stress have been associated with increased risk for an earlier birth, as well as problems with learning and controlling emotions during childhood. The mechanisms that link women’s experiences during pregnancy to long-term child outcomes are complicated and not completely understood. The goal of the WISHES study is to increase our understanding in this area. We think our study has the potential to make important contributions to how parents, pediatricians, and policy makers can help set up lifelong trajectories of health and well-being by supporting women’s health during pregnancy.

 What is prenatal stress? Prenatal stress is a complex umbrella term that encompasses many experiences – from frustration with daily hassles, to mental health concerns related to anxiety or depression, to life circumstances that are difficult or impossible for women to control, such as significant financial concerns, the death of a loved one, or a disaster like flooding.

Additionally, a woman’s perception of whether something is stressful contributes to how she may experience prenatal stress. This means factors like a woman’s personality, her outlook on life, and whether she views her world as safe or unsafe can come into play.

Finally, prenatal stress is not exclusive to the prenatal period. Research shows that women who report feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed during pregnancy also report feeling this way through at least the first two years of their child’s life. This is important to remember, because this means there are potentially many opportunities to support women and their children.

Although the “prenatal stress recipe” can be different for every woman, we might think about the ingredients as being the sort of things that drive us “N.U.T.S.”, in that these things are Novel, Unpredictable, Threatening to our survival or our sense of self, and they foster a Sense of lacking control. This acronym isn’t meant to make light of prenatal stress, but rather to help us remember that prenatal stress occurs when a woman has more things coming at her than she can manage.

How does prenatal stress influence child development? Recent research suggests that experiences of prenatal stress might influence child outcomes by impacting brain development before birth. What we are learning is that prenatal stress can affect a woman’s health during pregnancy in two ways, which in turn can influence her child’s development. First, prenatal stress can affect behaviors that are important to maintaining good health during pregnancy (e.g., getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, and getting good prenatal care). Second, prenatal stress can affect a woman’s biological functioning during pregnancy, including her hormones, blood pressure, and immune system. The placenta, which regulates the prenatal environment, likely plays a major role here.

What’s involved in the WISHES study? So far, we have very strong evidence from animal research that supports the hypothesis that prenatal stress influences offspring brain development before birth. To study this question in humans, the WISHES study is following women and their children from early in pregnancy through the first two years of life. Women enroll in the study between 8-12 weeks of pregnancy, and complete questionnaires on stress, emotions, and health behaviors 5 times during pregnancy. At 4 time points during pregnancy, women also complete fetal monitoring sessions, which involve placing electrodes on the woman’s belly to measure her baby’s resting heart rate. We look at fetal heart rate because it is a “downstream” marker of fetal brain maturation; as central nervous system development unfolds during pregnancy the brain increasingly controls the heart, and in turn resting heart rate patterns show expected patterns of organization and change. Therefore, by measuring changes in resting fetal heart rate during pregnancy we are able to understand how prenatal experiences may play a role in setting up different trajectories of brain development. At 3 time points during pregnancy, women also provide a small hair sample, which allows us to measure cortisol production during pregnancy. Cortisol is a hormone that helps our body cope and respond in challenging situations. During pregnancy, cortisol also helps mature fetal tissues, such as the lungs, and may impact the development of the central nervous system and brain. Finally, at 1 time point women complete a short computer game while we track their eye-movements, in order to understand how differences in attentional styles may play a role in whether or how women experience stress during pregnancy.

Following delivery, at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 24 months, children complete behavioral assessments and MRI brain scans, and parents complete questionnaires on their own experiences and their child’s development. We use MRI for this study because unlike other imaging methods it does not involve any radiation, making it completely safe for use with infants. Also, all scans are conducted in the evenings during children’s natural sleep, without the use of any sedation. Finally, a staff member is in the scanner with the child throughout the scan, so the scan can be discontinued immediately when children wake up.

Join us for the WISHES study. Every day we are learning more about how experiences during pregnancy may play a role in a child’s growth and development. However, we have much more to learn. This WISHES study will be the first to connect the dots between prenatal experiences, brain development across pregnancy, and brain and behavioral development during the first two years of life. This will allow us to significantly advance our understanding of how prenatal experiences may play a role in setting up different trajectories of brain and behavioral development.

Women and families will be compensated up to $560 for participating and will receive a small gift featuring pictures of their child’s brain. For many of the prenatal visits we are able to meet with women at their homes. For all visits held at the U of M, we provide free parking and child care for older siblings. For more information on the study please email us at doyle291@umn.edu.

Survey to Guide Adoption Research

By Samantha Lee and Bao Moua

Over the past year, the International Adoption Project Registry has been working to expand its research to include not just children and adolescents, but also adults who were adopted in childhood. Through two similar surveys we have been seeking input from adults who were adopted as children and their adoptive parents. The goal of the surveys was to find out what is important and what kind of topics were of interest to individuals and their families who have experienced international adoption.

To date we have received about 260 responses from the parents and about 100 responses from the adult adoptees. While we continue to welcome more responses on both surveys, what we are seeing so far from the Parent Survey is that 69% reported they are very much interested in learning more about the mental health of adults who were internationally adopted as children (or the implications of international adoption on mental health).

Other popular topics amongst parents were relationships with the adoptive family (42% very much interested), experiences of adversity or abuse (40% very much interested), dating, romantic partners and marriages and searching (or not) for birth family, foster family or people from pre-adoption past (both 39% very much interested). Parents had an opportunity to write down what other topics were of interest to them. Recurring topics included experiences of transitioning from teens into adulthood, post-adoption services, counseling and mental health services for adult adoptees and their families, discussion about prejudice and race in a multi-racial family, and adult adoptee’s experiences of self-identity.

Mental health was also a high interest topic among the adult adoptees (57%). Other popular topics included relationships with friends (52% very much interested), relationships with adoptive family and being a parent and/or raising children (both 50% very much interested), and genetic testing and/or ancestry testing (49% very much interested). Participants also had a chance to write in other topic of interests to them. Recurring topics includes adoption among adoptees, self- identity development, integration of birth and adoptive cultures, and experiences of racism when you don’t look like your adoptive parents. Figure 7 shows the different topics parents and adoptees rated their interest on.

Survey Results from Parents and Adoptees

We are hoping to use the survey responses to guide us in conducting more extensive research on areas of interest and to also identify a pool of possible research participants. Many of the participants who took the Adult Adoptee Survey volunteered to join the IAP’s Adult Registry. In joining the IAP Adult Registry, members are allowing us to contact them in the future as research opportunities arise to provide knowledge of their experiences of international adoption.

To learn more about the IAP Adult Registry or register, visit our website.

Understanding the Diaspora Experiences of Internationally Adopted Youth

By Adam Kim, Xiang Zhou, and Richard Lee

Scholars often refer to international adoption as the “quiet migration” because it is not viewed alongside more visible patterns of migration, such as voluntary immigrants, refugees, and international exchanges. But a common experience across all these forms of migration is the physical and psychological sense of displacement from one’s homeland – otherwise known as diaspora. The dispersion of the Jewish people around the world is a classic example of a diaspora, and more recent diasporas include Hmong and Somali refugees – many of whom now call Minnesota home. In our community outreach and qualitative studies with adopted youth and young adults, this diaspora feeling of displacement and loss is commonly described among international
adoptees as well.

We therefore set out to understand the diaspora experiences of internationally adopted individuals and other international migrants. We worked to create a way to understand the impact of this displacement on an individual’s identity, culminating in the development of the Diaspora Identity Scale. In our working model, diaspora identity consists of two distinct features – homeland yearning and co-ethnic solidarity. In the case of our work with adopted Koreans, homeland yearning refers to a real and imagined wish to return to Korea and psychologically feeling more complete living or traveling to the homeland. Co-ethnic solidarity refers to a belief that Koreans around the world should work together as compatriots.

In 2014, we surveyed over one hundred adoptive families – parents and adolescent children – using this newly constructed scale. We found initial support for these two features of diaspora: homeland yearning and co-ethnic solidarity. We also found diaspora identity is related to but distinct from ethnic-racial identity (i.e., a sense of identity that is built around membership to an ethnic-racial group), adoptive identity (i.e., a sense of identity that is built around being adopted) and thoughts about birth family (i.e., wondering whether you are similar to your birth parents). We have also surveyed other Korean populations, such as Korean immigrants in New Zealand and Korean international students in the United States and found similar support for diaspora identity. These findings are currently being written up for publication.

We are continuing to develop both our measure of diaspora identity and our understanding of the role of displacement on the identity development of internationally adopted youth. It is only with help from the International Adoption Project and families like you, that we were able to pursue this project, so we greatly appreciate your contribution to our research and that of the many other researchers involved.

Does Emotion Regulation Moderate the Discrimination-Adjustment Link for Adopted Korean American Adolescents?

By Yekun Qin, Adam Kim, Jenny Su, Alison Hu, and Richard M Lee

Growing up in a White family does not necessarily protect internationally adopted Korean Americans from the harmful effects of racial/ethnic discrimination on adjustment. Previous studies have found that experiences of discrimination are related to worse adjustment among transracial adoptees. To cope with these negative effects, transracial Korean adoptees may use different combinations of emotion regulation strategies, such as cognitive reappraisal (i.e., reframing the discrimination situation in a less negative way) and emotional suppression (i.e., inhibiting on-going emotion expression). However, there is limited research on how transracially adopted Korean American adolescents’ emotion regulations may moderate the link between discrimination and adjustment.

To address this gap in the literature, we surveyed 120 parents of Korean adopted children (ages 5-12) in 2007 and followed up with these parents and their now adolescent aged children (ages 13-19) again in 2014. As part of the survey, parents reported the behavioral adjustment of the children in 2007 and 2014. Adolescents also reported their typical emotion regulation strategies and their experiences with discrimination in the 2014 survey. We first identified different emotional regulation strategies profiles employed by the adolescents. We then examined the discrimination-adjustment link (using 2014 adolescent reports) controlling for their childhood behavioral adjustment scores from 2007. Finally, we examined whether different combinations of emotion regulation strategies changed (e.g., increased, decreased) the effect of discrimination on adjustment.

Figure 8. Adopted Korean American adolescents’ emotion regulation profiles.
Figure 8. Adopted Korean American adolescents’ emotion regulation profiles.

As illustrated in Figure 8, Korean adoptees displayed three distinct emotion regulation profiles. A relatively high score on reappraisal and a very low score on suppression characterized the High Reappraisal/Low Suppression (HR/LS) group. A relatively high score on reappraisal and a moderate score on suppression characterized the High Reappraisal/Moderate Suppression (HR/MS) group. A moderate score on both reappraisal and suppression with the suppression score being higher than the reappraisal score characterized the Moderate Reappraisal/Moderate Suppression (MR/MS) group. After taking into account the behavioral adjustment of the adoptees in childhood, discrimination was still related to poor adjustment in adolescence. Finally, the three different emotion regulation profiles did not change the impact of discrimination on adjustment. However, adopted Korean adolescents with the HR/LS profile reported the best adjustment in general.

Overall, these finding provide further support for the strong negative effects of discrimination to adolescent adjustment. Although the emotion regulation profiles did not change the pernicious effects of discrimination, adoptees who are able to re-appraise stressful situations and not suppress their emotions showed the best behavioral adjustment.

Toddlers and Parents & Toddler Attention Studies

By Shanna Mliner

We are honored to be part of the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress and Health. This is a pioneering national network of developmental scientists, community leaders, and primary care practices that are working together to better understand how difficult life circumstances influences development and health, and develop best practices in early assessment and intervention to transform pediatric practice. The ultimate goal is the prevention of lifelong impairments in mental health and chronic disease due to over triggering of the body’s stress responses early in life. Through this network, we are running two research projects at pediatric clinics within Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota: the Toddlers and Parents Study and the Toddler Attention Study. The purpose of these studies is to help develop measures that identify evidence of over triggering of stress systems to create a set of measures that doctors can collect during well-child visits to identify families who could use extra help in supporting the development of their children.

We all know that stress is a part of life. Learning how to cope with stress is an important part of a child’s healthy development, whether it’s the stress of meeting new people for shy children or the second-hand stress of watching parents dealing with food insecurity, concerns about paying the rent or living in a dangerous neighborhood. There is a range of physiological responses to stress such as increased heart rate and fluctuations in cortisol stress hormone levels. When stress occurs to a young child within an environment of supportive relationships with adults, these physiological effects are buffered and brought back down to baseline. The result is a healthy stress response system. For larger stressors — such as the death or serious illness of a loved one, a frightening injury, the divorce of one’s parents, or a natural disaster — these physiological responses are sustained for a longer period of time. But still, the buffering effects of supportive adult relationships allow the brain to recover from what might otherwise be damaging effects. It’s when situations of extreme stress are prolonged and unrelenting, in the absence of supportive adults, that a child is affected by toxic stress. These situations can include extreme poverty, physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, severe maternal depression, substance abuse, or family violence. Without the support of a caring network of adults, stress can alter brain architecture and lead to stress management systems that respond at relatively lower thresholds, thereby increasing the risk of stress-related physical and mental illness.

Previous research we conducted almost 20 years ago demonstrated the profound importance of what we call “parental social buffering”.  That is, once the child has formed a secure attachment relationship with the parent when the parent is present, the child can experience things that are very distressing but the body is buffered from showing a cortisol stress hormone response. There is a powerful parental stress-protective mechanism. Importantly, children who are insecurely attached or where the attachment relationship is disordered do not have this same stress protection.  Showing cortisol elevations even when the parent is present might be an important index of toxic stress vulnerability that we can include in our stress battery.

In the Toddlers and Parents Study, we followed 12 to 18 month-olds as they came in for their well-baby checkup with inoculations. We went with the parent and toddler throughout the visit, parents completed questionnaires, we took saliva samples in the waiting room, before shots were given, and 20 minutes after the shots. We had a highly trained observer watch how the child used the parent throughout the visit as a source of security. We recruited 190 families for this study and just recently completed data collection. We are waiting for the cortisol stress hormone analysis, but so far we’ve seen in the data that we do have a range of both life stressors and attachment security. In families with low stress indicators, 80% of the toddlers were securely attached to the parent. In families with higher stress indicators, only about 50% of the children were securely attached. But this still means that 50% of those children in high stressed families were securely attached. Soon we will be able to analyze the saliva samples to determine cortisol response levels to test the buffering role of secure relationships.

We are also just beginning the second Toddler Attention Study to assess the development of attention skills of children 9 to 17 months old as they go through their well-baby exams in the clinic. Good attention skills rely on areas of the brain that are very sensitive to stress. We will be showing children simple videos and tracking their eye-movements to see how they are processing the information on the screen. The little videos test aspect of attention regulation. This is work being done in collaboration with two other colleagues, Philip Zelazo and Jed Elison. Our goal is to see whether delays in the early development of attention can be detected in 9- to 17-month old children while they visit the doctor for their regular check-ups. Detecting delays this early would allow plenty of opportunity to strengthen the brain circuits that help children control their attention and their behavior.

Questions about the Toddlers and Parent Study or the Toddler Attention Study can be directed to Shanna Mliner at newma039@umn.edu or 612-624-4351.

Smiling toddler

Suárez awarded the Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Sarah SuárezSarah Suárez, a fourth year doctoral student in the Institute of Child Development, has been awarded the National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2017 academic year.

The $27,500 fellowship supports individuals whose research may advance the field of education. Suárez is one of 35 researchers to receive the fellowship this year out of more than 400 applicants.

Suárez’s dissertation focuses on how children develop an understanding of knowledge and how it relates to critical thinking, social learning, and self-control.

Fenoglio receives Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle award

Angela Fenoglio, a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), recently received an award from the College of Education and Human Development’s Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC).

Founded in 2002, WPLC aims to raise visibility of women leaders in education and human development and provide financial support to women in educational leadership positions. Each year, WPLC makes several awards of up to $2,500 to graduate students to honor their achievement and leadership.

Fenoglio is currently a doctoral candidate working with ICD faculty Jed Elison, Ph.D., and Michael Georgieff, M.D. Her research focuses on the development of the “social brain.” In her work, she examines how atypical early experiences, such as premature birth, might affect the development of brain circuits involved in social skills like following a caregiver’s gaze or thinking about the beliefs and desires of others. The long-term goal of her research is to contribute to strategic prevention and intervention in pre-term infants and other populations at an increased risk of mental illness.

CEED to establish international center for reflective practice

The Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) in the Institute of Child Development has received a $1 million grant from the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation to establish a center that will focus on reflective practice in infant and early childhood mental health.

Reflective practice is a professional development approach that encourages individuals to pay attention to relationships as they examine behavior and their responses to behavior. In the infant and early childhood mental health field, reflective practice asks practitioners to explore how they relate to the children and families they work with, who may be facing multiple challenges and risks. Practitioners engage in reflective practice in partnership with a supervisor or consultant.

The new CEED center will serve as an intellectual home for high-quality, cutting-edge research in reflective practice. It will also disseminate knowledge about reflective practice, help professionals incorporate reflective practice principles into their work, and inform policy dealing with infant and early childhood mental health. The center will be the first of its kind internationally.

“We are grateful to the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation for their support as we work to impact infant and early childhood programs and providers, both in Minnesota and across the country,” says Christopher Watson, Ph.D., IMH-E®[IV], director of the new center at CEED. “This generous gift will allow CEED to bolster its work in reflective supervision and to better support staff who serve families facing complex challenges. We look forward to carrying out this work in an effort to improve developmental outcomes for infants and young children.”

ICD graduate, Rachel Boettcher, receives CEHD Rising Alumni award

Rachel Boettcher, M.Ed., '15
Rachel Boettcher, M.Ed., ’15

Rachel Boettcher, an alumna of the Institute of Child Development (ICD), is a 2017 recipient of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Alumni Society’s Rising Alumni award. Boettcher, earned a B.S. in early childhood education foundations in 2008 and an M.Ed. in early childhood education in 2015.

The CEHD Rising Alumni award recognizes alumni who have achieved early distinction in their career (15 years or less since graduation), demonstrated emerging leadership, or shown exceptional volunteer service in their communities.

Boettcher currently serves as program director of Caring for Kids at Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners, where she is working to close the opportunity gap and provide access to high quality early education programs for children living in poverty. In her role, she partners with school districts and community agencies to increase investment in early learning.

“We are so pleased to see Rachel’s important work in securing high quality early childhood programming for families at risk recognized by CEHD,” said Ann Ruhl Carlson, M.Ed., coordinator of early childhood programs in ICD. “Throughout her budding career, she has used what she learned and practiced during her undergraduate and graduate programs in early childhood education to make a difference in the world.”

ICD hosts community symposium on play

ICD faculty member Stephanie Carlson, Ph.D., presents at the community symposium.On May 15, the Institute of Child Development (ICD) hosted a community symposium on the importance of play for learning.

For the symposium, which was co-hosted by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, ICD faculty and staff presented cutting-edge research on play and discussed why it is critical to child development.

Presentations covered topics including play’s impact on a child’s understanding of math, how play influences the development of executive function, and how the Children’s Theatre Company is incorporating research into a preschool storytelling program. Each presentation was followed by a play-based activity that asked participants to explore what they learned.

Experts from the Minnesota Children’s Museum also provided a sneak peek of their new facility and exhibits, which will open to the public on June 7.

To learn more about why play is critical to learning and child development, read the following articles from Connect, the College of Education and Human Development’s alumni magazine.

  • The power of play:” Play is essential for learning and growing, but it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. New research is changing that.
  • Play lab:” Children lead at the U’s laboratory preschool
  • Setting the stage for learning:” Supporting early literacy through theater arts

ICD undergraduate receives Fulbright Award

Sydney Carlson
Sydney Carlson

Sydney Carlson, a senior majoring in child psychology in the Institute of Child Development, has been awarded a Fulbright-related U.S. teaching assistantship by the Austrian government.

Carlson is among 13 students and alumni from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to be awarded a Fulbright grant during the 2017-18 academic year.

Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946 to promote international good will through the exchange of students and scholars. The program awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries.

When she returns from Austria, Carlson plans to pursue an M.A. and specialist certificate in education and school psychological services from the Department of Educational Psychology.

ICD undergraduate Erica Smolinski receives research fellowship

Erica Smolinski
Erica Smolinski

Erica Smolinski, an undergraduate child psychology student in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), has received a $2,000 fellowship from the International Congress on Infant Studies (ICIS). This is the first year ICIS has awarded grants to support undergraduate student research.

The fellowship will support Smolinski’s summer research project, which will examine differences in how mothers imagine their unborn child and their relationship with the child, as well as how family planning may be associated with these differences. The project will leverage data from the Women and Infants Study of Health, Emotions, and Stress (WISHES), a study led by ICD doctoral student Colleen Doyle. Smolinski will be mentored by Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute.

ICD doctoral student Madelyn Labella honored with P.E.O. scholarship

Madelyn Labella
Madelyn Labella

Madelyn Labella, a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Child Development, has been selected to receive a P.E.O. Scholar Award. The P.E.O. Sisterhood is a philanthropic educational organization dedicated to supporting higher education for women. Labella was nominated for the P.E.O. Scholar Award by Chapter R of St. Paul, Minn., and was one of 100 doctoral students from across the U.S. and Canada selected to receive a $15,000 scholarship.

CEHD research on the development of autism featured in Spectrum

L-R: Jed Elison, Jason Wolff

Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, was recently featured in a Spectrum article about his research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants whose older siblings have autism. Wolff worked with a national team of researchers, including Jed Elison from the Institute for Child Development, on the study. Wolff and colleagues found that the development of specific brain circuits may predict the severity of repetitive and sensory behaviors in infants who later develop autism.

In the article, Spectrum explains, “repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, are a cardinal sign of autism”, and “children with these severe repetitive behaviors often also have unusual sensory features, such as sensitivities to sounds or textures or an insensitivity to pain.”

Wolff expands on this. “They both (repetitive behaviors and unusual sensory features) seem to share a similar relationship with underlying neural circuitry,” he says.

Read the full article.

ICD doctoral student Elizabeth Sharer awarded fellowship from Autism Science Foundation

Elizabeth Sharer Headshot
Elizabeth Sharer

Elizabeth Sharer, a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Child Development, has received a $25,000 one-year, pre-doctoral fellowship from the Autism Science Foundation (ASF).

This year, ASF awarded three pre-doctoral and six post-doctoral fellowship grants to student and mentor teams conducting research in deep brain stimulation, gene and environmental interactions, epigenetics, pain response, neurobiology, and sex differences in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Each of the projects selected for funding has the potential to improve the lives of people with autism,” said Autism Science Foundation President Alison Singer. “We are pleased to support the work of this impressive group of young scientists and look forward to the progress that will be made as a result of their efforts.”

For her research, Sharer will examine the female protective effect in infants with ASD. Four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with autism, and evidence suggests a “female protective effect” as one explanation for the sex bias.

Sharer’s study will be the first study to investigate the female protective effect in infants who show behaviors of concern, compared with those who develop typically and those who are later diagnosed with ASD. Sharer will be mentored by ICD Assistant Professor Jed Elison, Ph.D.

Gunnar Lab research opportunities

The Immune Study: Ages 14–20 Needed

group of cheerful high school students friendsEvery day we are learning more about how childhood sets up trajectories of health and well-being. However, we have much more to learn. With our continuation of the Immune Study, we will examine how differences in early experiences are associated with differences in functioning of actual immune cells. To do this, we will be collecting blood samples from internationally adopted and non-adopted adolescents and young adults. Dr. Coe will isolate immune cells from these blood samples, and examine how they respond to various immune system challenges, like viruses or pollen, in a test tube. Participants will complete some questionnaires and saliva samples at home, and visit us at the U of MN to give a blood sample and have their temperature and blood pressure taken. They will be compensated up to $50 for participating. If you are interested in learning more about the Immune Study, email us at immune.umn@gmail.com.

This summer we continuing our Immune study, and now we have a special opportunity to add the study of the microbiome! If you are interested in learning more about the microbiome, check out this short YouTube video from NPR on how our immune cells and the microbiome inside of us work together to help us stay healthy.

Follow-up to the Transition into the Family Study

Elementary school girl raising her hand in classSeeking: Families who previously participated in any portion of the Transition into the Family Study, whose children are currently between the ages of 8 and 11 years.

Middle childhood is a time when children start to gain more independence, and peer interactions become more complex. Building on the Kindergarten study, we are interested in how older children interact with unfamiliar peers, and how early life experiences may influence these interactions.

Your child would be asked to visit the U of MN campus one time over the summer and participate in various tasks with another child his or her age. Eligible participants will receive up to $20-$40 compensation and free parking.

For more information, please call 732-864-7953 or email depas010@umn.edu.

Genetic testing among adult adoptees

Through scientific advancements and decreased costs in genetic testing, many internationally adopted individuals now have the potential opportunity to learn more about their health history and genetic ancestry through inexpensive direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits, such as 23andMe. However, very little is known about people’s attitude, interest, and knowledge about genetic testing within the adoption community, as well as what factors predict people’s interests in genetic testing. We also do not know what kinds of information people are seeking or not seeking from genetic testing and how they would use such information. To address these gaps, we aim to identify reasons why internationally adopted individuals may choose to complete or abstain from genetic testing. We will also look at how the information given in direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits relates to experiences as adoptees.

We are seeking to recruit 60 internationally adopted individuals between the ages of 18 to 35 years old. Study participants will complete a brief online survey that asks questions about their attitude, interest and knowledge about genetic testing, personal and social experiences, adoption specific experiences, and basic demographics. The survey will take no longer than 30 minutes to complete. Participants will receive a $10 Amazon gift card at the completion of the study.

This research hopes to aid in the understanding of what influences internationally adopted individuals decision-making process when considering whether to have genetic testing done when this new advanced technology is readily available. If you are interested in participating in this study or would like more information, please email the Familee Lab.

Williams Ridge presents at Children & Nature Network annual conference

Headshot of Sheila Williams Ridge
Sheila Williams Ridge

Sheila Williams Ridge, director of the Shirley G. Moore Lab School in the Institute of Child Development, presented at the 2017 Children & Nature Network (C&NN) International Conference and Summit.

C&NN aims to connect children, families, and communities to nature through innovative ideas and evidence-based resources. The theme for the 2017 conference was, “Kids Need Nature, Nature Needs Kids.”

During the conference, Williams Ridge spoke about tailoring outdoor learning opportunities to children’s specific developmental needs, depending on their age. She also moderated a panel about best practices for nature-based learning in the early childhood field.

CE+HD Connect Magazine highlights CEED research on children’s theater program

A recent article in CE+HD Connect magazine discussed research by the Center for Early Education and Development that is examining the effectiveness of a children’s theater program. The story is one of three articles about play that appear in the magazine’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue.

Early Bridges is a preschool theater arts outreach program developed by the Minneapolis-based Children’s Theatre Company (CTC). Early Bridges aims to build early literacy through interactive storytelling and theater arts.

Through a research collaboration with CTC, CEED evaluates Early Bridges’ impact, such as whether students show improvement in certain areas. CEED also has helped develop new measures and rubrics for the program, which incorporate both theater arts and child development theory.

To learn more about Early Bridges and CEED’s research, read the full story, “Setting the stage for learning,” or register for ICD’s Community Symposium on “The Importance of Play for Learning.” The symposium will take place on May 15 at 8:30 a.m. at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center.

Shirley G. Moore Lab School featured in CE+HD Connect Magazine

The Shirley G. Moore Lab School in the Institute of Child Development was profiled in a recent article in CE+HD Connect magazine, which highlighted the school’s focus on play-based learning. The story is one of three articles about play that appear in the magazine’s Spring/Summer 2017 issue.

To learn more about the Shirley G. Moore Lab School and how it incorporates play into its curriculum, read the full story, “Play lab,” or register for ICD’s Community Symposium on “The Importance of Play for Learning.” The symposium will take place on May 15 at 8:30 a.m. at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center.