Infant mental health subject of 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 will enable discussion of current issues in the field of children's mental health. It will be held from 8:15 a.m. to5 p.m. Friday, June 9, at the Allied Health/Research Building. Sites in Laredo, Corpus Christi, Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley will offer the proceedings through teleconferencing.
Sponsored by the Department of Occupational Therapy, Alamo Area AHEC, Texas Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention and 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 symposium programs geared to paraprofessionals.
Sandra Hubbard, 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 may remember the event and such a memory might become problematic as the child grows up.
"We used to assume that infants were not doing any processing," said Hubbard. "We now know that is not true." Dr. Bruce Perry of Baylor University has completed brain studies documenting the effects of trauma. The key is to screen infants in high-risk environments and intervene as soon as possible, she said. Teen pregnancy and low socioeconomic levels are risk factors 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 yet.
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 parents want help, but they don't know how to break patterns of behavior that havebeen present for generations," Hubbard said. "Parents want tobe good parents."
Hubbard's previous work with behavior-disordered adolescents convinced her more than ever of the importance of helping children when they are young. "The younger the better," she said. "But it's never too late."
The deadline for registration is May 31, and attendance at the symposium is limited. The cost is $45, including lunch. Teleconference site participants will not be charged. For more information, call ext. 7-8884.