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Infant/child mental health subject of June symposium

"Building Bridges in Infant and Child Mental Health" is the theme of the Second Annual Mental Health Symposium for Professionals and Paraprofessionals. This event is a forum for discussion of current issues affecting the mental status of children.

The symposium will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, June 9, at the Allied Health/Research Building, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), 8403 Floyd Curl Drive. Sites in Laredo, Corpus Christi, Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley will offer the proceedings through teleconferencing.

Sponsored by UTHSCís Department of Occupational Therapy, the Alamo Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Texas Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention and the South Texas/Border Initiative (STBI), the program will emphasize the importance of early identification and early intervention. The symposium will offer two tracks, a theoretical one geared to professionals and a more practical approach for paraprofessionals. This will be one of the first programs geared to paraprofessionals.

Speakers will include Florence Crawford, Ph.D., RN, of the Health Science Centerís Department of Family Nursing Care, whose research focuses on maternal child health, and Rene Olvera, M.D., MPH, of the universityís Department of Psychiatry, who studies neurobiology, attention-deficit disorder and conduct disorders.

Sandra Hubbard, MA, OTR, assistant professor and STBI/AHEC coordinator in the occupational therapy department, says very young children who have experienced emotional trauma are at risk for developing behavior disorders. For example, an infant who sees his mother beaten repeatedly will certainly remember the event and will likely show the effects later on.

"We used to assume that infants were not doing any processing," Hubbard said. "We now know that is not true." Bruce Perry, M.D., at Baylor University has completed brain studies documenting the effects of trauma, she said. The key is to screen infants in high-risk environments and intervene as soon as possible. High rates of teen pregnancy and low socioeconomic levels are risk factors that are prevalent in South Texas.

Although Hubbard said Texas appears to be one of the few states that is beginning to fund early childhood intervention programs, there are no real guidelines for intervention. If a child is thought to be at risk for behavioral disorders, an intervention specialist may focus on educating the parent and improving the relationship between parent and child. "Usually the parent wants help, but doesnít know how to break patterns that have been present for generations," Hubbard said. "Parents want to be good parents."

Hubbardís previous work with behavior-disordered adolescents convinced her more than ever of the need to work harder with children when they are young. "The younger the better, but it is never too late," she said.

The deadline for registration is May 31, and attendance at the Health Science Center is limited to 100. The cost is $45, including lunch. There will be no charge to participate through one of the teleconferencing sites. For more information, call (210) 567-8884.

Contact: Will Sansom or Jennifer Lorenzo