My work has been inspired by recent translational neurogenomics findings suggesting that some children carry genetic variants that affect their ability to self-regulate which make them more sensitive to the effects of their early environment. The research literature refers to these children as orchids. These are usually the children that experience emotional, behavioral and overall developmental challenges. They present with different symptoms and diagnostic labels (e.g., depression, anxiety, ADHD, tics, oppositional defiance, obsessive compulsive behaviors, substance use, risky sexual behavior, learning challenges, and poor academic performance) which are an expression of dysregulation in different neural pathways and neurochemicals. I have developed a Parent-Child Relational & Developmental Neuropsychotherapy ProtocolTM that conceptualizes their symptoms as a cry for additional support from their environment, as they need more attention and care than the more traditional hardy (i.e., dandelion) children. What is critical here, and usually gets missed when treatment focuses on fixing the bad behavior, is that these children become exceptional when the right environment is provided for them. Thus, instead of labeling them with diagnoses and disabilities, I believe that we can provide coaching tools for educators to provide the support that these children need to create their own unique paths in the world.
It’s Personal: The effect of childhood behaviors on adults
I lecture and present a workshop that attempts to operationalize this newly emerging knowledge about how the brain develops and functions to challenge the traditional ways of conceptualizing, treating, and managing children’s behaviors. By applying a relational approach, I find I am able to highlight that the interactions between the child and the adult are personal – to both the child and the adult. Thus, like in any relationship, the adult can become easily triggered by the child’s negative behavior and might be unable to use the knowledge regarding how the brain develops and works. Therefore, it is helpful for educators to be mindful that they need to be able to self-regulate so that they can be in a position to provide co-regulation to the child in order for the child to eventually self-regulate on his own.
The most challenging children are the most extraordinary
As mentioned above, behavioral, socio-emotional and learning challenges exhibited by orchid children are an expression of their genetic plasticity. Yet, this plasticity can only result in exceptional qualities (what I sometimes call “superpowers”) when a nurturing environment is available to them. These nurturing environments require caregivers to be able to not retreat from, react or retaliate against the child. Otherwise, they will be unable to provide the unique support that these extraordinary children need to not only thrive, but most importantly to survive.
Group leaders (including educators) have the capacity to attenuate the effect of social hierarchies on health disparities
There is good research that highlights how classrooms become microcosms of the much broader societal dynamics including the effect of social hierarchies on the distribution of health, and how educators have immense influence in attenuating the effects of the natural social hierarchies that develop early in every classroom resulting in the uncoupling of the effect of social hierarchies on health disparities.