The Impact of Genetics on Child Development

While there are many nuances to the nature vs. nurture debate surrounding child development and the human experience in general – like we talked about in this article – it’s no doubt that genes form the basis of just about everything.

To briefly touch on the nurture side of the conversation, our environment – i.e., how and where we are raised, the beliefs of the community and family that raised us, and every other variable associated with our early childhood surroundings – helps determine which genes are “turned on” throughout our lifetime. So, in spite of our desire to turn the nature vs. nurture conversation into a debate to be won or lost, these two phenomena collaborate with one another, creating unique human beings like you and me.

As we all know, genes from our parents influence everything from height, weight, eye color, and other physical characteristics, to behavioral patterns in achievement, intelligence and motivation. A child’s biology can have major implications on their development, so the more we, as parents and teachers, can understand the science behind our children’s bodies and minds, the better we’re able to nurture them to their full potential and healthiest, happiest selves.

Let’s start from the very beginning: conception. When a male’s sperm cell combines with a female’s ovum cell, they each contribute half of the DNA necessary to create an embryo.

Typically, this means that the resulting embryo contains 46 chromosomes, which are the DNA molecules that house genetic information. However, genetic abnormalities are not so “abnormal” after all, and DNA doesn’t always divide into chromosomes evenly. These instances can lead to babies born with disabilities and conditions such as Down syndrome, characterized by an extra 21st chromosome, or trisomy 21.

For children and students with Down syndrome, the effects on learning can vary widely and specialized education techniques are often necessary. Whether you’re a trained special educator or not, it’s important to every student’s success to know how to best interact with students of different needs and learning abilities. For easy access to resources on teaching students with genetic disorders and special needs, check out our specially curated list of Twitter feeds.

In addition to Down syndrome, there are many other genetic disorders with their own set of nuanced symptoms, neurological effects, physical characteristics and potential learning hurdles. Though rare in comparison to Down syndrome, some of these other genetic disorders include, Edwards syndrome, Patau syndrome and Warkany syndrome, among others.

Many scholars have put considerable time and effort into researching the interplay of genes and childhood development, largely to unravel the misconception that genes are set in stone at birth like we once thought. As mentioned above, genes and our environment interact to form the whole picture of every child, and certain genes – like CHRM2, which was pinpointed by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University – predict a child’s resiliency to early life traumas and parental neglect.

Findings like these and their implications for education have helped develop the new field of “educational genomics,” which could enable to academia to create curricula tailored to a student’s DNA profile. Although much headway has yet to be made in this field before developing into a viable option, the rise in research and funding on this subject makes it a legitimate option for future generations of teachers and learners.

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