What's going on in there? Understanding how children's brains develop, and how they are affected by disorders like autism spectrum disorder and FASD


Public conversation and 'brain art silent auction', at Station 20 West, Wednesday, March 13th, 6:30-9 pm (talk at 7 pm)



Parents of young children often wonder what's going on inside their heads, and how they can best help them develop. They may wonder, 'Should we be holding flashcards over her crib, or playing her classical music? What about exposing him to multiple languages? Does yelling at my child damage him? How will I know if my baby has a neurological disorder, like autism spectrum disorder, or FASD, and what can I do about it?'


While parents may be looking for instruction manuals or parenting recipes for success, what we now understand, through research in neuroscience and early childhood development, is that baby's brains develop over time and multiple interactions.


The brain is a very complex system, subject to many factors and influences, and a baby's brain changes every day,' says early childhood researcher Nazeem Muhajarine. 'While the first three years of a child's life is a time of rapid brain development, with sensitive periods ideal for the development of certain skills, our brains remain malleable, and we are able to form new connections throughout our lives.'


And this brain development happens automatically, as children interact with people and things in the world around them. It isn't through exposure to one particular activity that children's brains develop, but through many different experiences in the early years. Children who have neurological disorders have brains that develop differently, and they can benefit from early diagnosis and treatment.


Muhajarine, who leads a Healthy Children research program at the University of Saskatchewan, will be joining colleagues Dr. Cordell Neudorf, Chief Medical Health Officer for Saskatoon Health Region, and Ginny Lane, a cognitive disability consultant with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, for an informal public conversation on children's brain development as part of Brain Awareness Week. This is a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.


They will focus on the role of all kinds of early environments – at home, and in the community -- play in children's brain development, and how we can better support children affected by neurodevelopmental disorders such as FASD and autism spectrum disorder.


Local artists will have brain-related pieces for sale through a silent auction, with the money donated to a local non-profit organization. This event is organized by the Saskatchewan Neuroscience Network, in partnership with NeuroDevNet, Saskatoon Health Region, and others.


Saskatoon Health Region and the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit, where Muhajarine's research program is located, recently collaborated on the first ever child health status report on the health and wellbeing of children and families in Saskatoon Health Region (available at http://www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/your_health/ps_public_health_pho_reports_publications_and_presentations.htm)



Muhajarine is also part of NeuroDevNet, a national network of excellence on early brain development. NeuroDevNet researchers are studying ways to identify, treat and prevent neurological disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They are also working extensively with patients affected by neurological disorders, their families, and health services providers, so that they can benefit from new understanding of how brains development, and how to best treat and manage with these disorders.


Later in the week, kids can get in on the action by visiting 'Brain Blast: A passport into the brain' with their families. This open house takes place Sunday, March 17 from 12 noon to 3 pm, Saskatoon City Hospital Atrium, 701 Queen Street.


The Saskatoon City Hospital Atrium will be transformed into a maze of stations highlighting the different brain areas and the basics of brain function.


Visitors will receive a passport to take on their journey through the stations that are run by enthusiastic University of Saskatchewan graduate students with a neuroscience background, with prizes drawn for completed passports. The virtual brain maze that includes the ever popular Brain Walk, designed with various brain related activities for all ages. There will also be a mock neuroscience lab, as well as short video presentations.


For more information, visit: http://www.usask.ca/snn/BAW/index.php or our event on Facebook by searching 'Saskatoon Brain Awareness Week'



Contact for interviews:


Nazeem Muhajarine, PhD

Lead, Healthy Children research program

Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit

University of Saskatchewan

306-966-7940 or 306-227-2982



Fleur Macqueen Smith, MA

Knowledge Transfer Manager

Healthy Children research program

Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit

University of Saskatchewan

306-966-2957 or 306-230-4548





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