The gestational period, is a crucial time when both environmental and genetic influences can affect the development of a child. These factors can not only have consequences at birth, but throughout the child’s life. According to Entringer et al (2015), “a growing body of evidence supports the notion that health and disease susceptibility is determined by the dynamic interplay between genetic makeup and environment, particularly during intrauterine and early postnatal life”. (p 366).
Stress is an environmental factor that can affect future diseases and development of the child. During development of the fetus, if it is exposed to high levels of stress, the brain sensors can be altered. Through studies it has been found that if the brain is exposed to stress that it can cause a child to be born with low birth weight or be premature. It can also affect the child as they grow and children can be seen having more behavioral and emotional issues. This may not be detected until the ages of seven and adolescence. Entringer et al (2015) looked at maternal stress and the effects that it had on people during their lifespan. They also found that stress during pregnancy caused the child later in life to have problems with their weight and insulin levels, it could also alter their cognitive levels, and increased their likelihood of having asthma and immune deficiency diseases.
A genetic factor that can affect the development of a child is chromosomal abnormalities. This typically occurs at the beginning of pregnancy when meiosis is occurring. This can be random or this can also be caused by genetics within the family. One of the most common chromosomal abnormalities is Down syndrome. Down syndrome babies all have a flat face, stocky build, and almond shaped eyes. According to Berk (2014) “The consequences of Down syndrome include mental retardation, memory and speech problems, limited vocabulary, and slow motor development”. (p 52). Most people with Down syndrome only live into their twenties and if they reach the age of forty usually develop Alzheimer’s.
Both genetic and environmental factors influence a child’s ability to grow and their personality. If both factors are in play during development the child may experience not only physical deformities but also neurological problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or other emotional issues resulting in anger.
I chose both of these influences as I have personally had experiences with both. During my pregnancy with my son I was exposed to high levels of stress and had complications during my pregnancy. As a result, my son has ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and Autistic Tendencies. This has resulted in him exhibiting little to no impulse control and the need for structured organization in his life. He has been placed on an individualized education plan at school along with a behavior intervention plan to try and make him successful. He struggles daily with his behavior and trying to fit into social situations. Academically he is not able to be successful if he is not in a structured environment that can support him not only academically, but also be able to identify his triggers and respond to his impulsivity.
As for the genetic factor, my family has a history of children being born with chromosomal defects. My brother, Adam was one of those children. He was born with Towns Syndrome (which is like Downs, except he does not have the facial features), Goldenhar Syndrome (which affects all his muscle control.) Adam did not walk until the age of 5 and still has motor control issues. He also cannot chew hard food. Everything has to be in soft form for him to be able to eat. Adam also hydrocephalus (water on the brain). He has a shunt in his head that drains the excess water into his stomach. He has severe scoliosis, therefore he cannot stand up straight as his back is curved so badly. Adam was also born without an ear canal on one side and his anal opening was not present at birth. My brother also has Autistic Tendencies and a memory that I envy. He has been through more than twenty-five surgeries to try and correct some of the problems he faces. Adam has led a difficult life compared to most. Although he is now thirty, mentally he is still a child functioning between a seven and eleven year old. He will never be able to live independently, drive a vehicle, or experience things we often take for granted. Luckily, he does not know what he is not able to do and experiences life through his vision, not societies.
Berk, L.E. (2014). Development through the lifespan (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
Entringer, S., Buss, C., & Wadhwa, P.D. (2015). Prenatal stress, development, health and disease
risk: A psychobiological perspective—2015 Curt Richter Award Paper. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 62, 366-375. Doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.019