Child development is a gradual process of development of cognitive-linguistic, socio-emotional and sensory motor skills, each of them interconnected and interacting. The environment, acting on the individual biological conditions through GxE mechanism, determines a constant remodeling of functions and individual skills. Research is essential to identify biological and environmental factors - involved in various development processes, to find the period of greatest sensitivity to the promotion of development and to detect the most effective models of intervention, to promote contextual factors needed to a suitable development.
The neurodevelopmental disorders (i.e. autism spectrum disorders or intellectual disabilities development disorder) are the better place to enable the identification of the involved factors, to develop evidence-based paradigms of intervention, to promote mental health, by involving many areas concerned in child development (i.e. school and family ) even with the use of new tools and the opportunities offered by the development of ICT (Information and Communication Technology), also in this area.
- GxE and GxG interaction in internalizing and externalizing disorders
- Endophenotypes and early markers (infant level) of autism, speech disorders, dyslexia, adhd
- Early diagnosis and innovative intervention models using specific and web 2.0 tools
- Development of resilience and social integration, especially in the area of intellectual disability
- Early mother-child interaction and empowerment ability of care in caregivers
Within this area and strictly connected to the activity in neuro-rehabilitation, we are also developing projects aimed at the identification of the personal and contextual factors that promote health in its physical, mental and social components. Indeed the rate of disability and the life expectancy are both increasing every year. This phenomenon has direct implications on health and social policies. Intervention programs are therefore needed to promote well-being and a good quality of life among the increasing amount of people facing these conditions. The aims of these projects are summarized below.
The promotion of mental health in chronic disease: personal and family resources
During the last two decades, researchers and practitioners in the domains of health and psychology started questioning the predominance of disease- and deficit-focused models of human functioning, and claimed for the need to identify the psychological components of health, as well as the environmental conditions that promote it (Chida & Steptoe, 2008, Diener e Chan, 2011; Howell, Kern, & Lyubomirsky, 2007).
The identification of the personal and contextual factors that promote health - in its physical, mental and social components - is especially important today, since higher life expectancy has increased worldwide the number of years spent living with chronic diseases. The estimated prevalence rate of disability in the adult population ranges from 11.8% in higher income countries to 18% in lower income countries (WHO, 2011). This phenomenon has direct implications on health and social policies. Intervention programs are needed to promote well-being and a good quality of life among the increasing amount of people facing these conditions.
A variety of studies have identified psychological and social resources that enable individuals and family to successfully cope with chronic or progressive disease through a dynamic process labeled as resilience (Bonanno, 2004). At the individual level, psychological resources promoting resilience were identified and investigated. For example, positive emotions facilitate distancing from unsolvable problems and promote a more objective risk assessment (Isen, 2009). High levels of hope are associated with active search for medical information, better treatment adherence and lower perception of symptoms in chronic conditions (Berg et al., 2007). Social support reduces the intensity and duration of depressive symptoms and positively influences survival rates (Revenson & DeLongis, 2011). At the environmental level, availability of opportunities for engagement and skill development represents an important source of well-being in chronic conditions (Bassi et al., 2012). Relational and social resources are especially important in the context of childhood disabilities (Cramm & Nieboer, 2012; MacDonald et al. 2010).
Based on these premises, through a series of projects we aim at identifying a set of relevant indicators of individual and caregivers’ well-being and mental health to be included in patients’ medical records. Based on this integrated information, it will be possible to build an integrated and authentically bio-psycho-social representation of each person’s health conditions. Findings will serve two different aims:
- the promotion of children’s and caregivers’ awareness of their psychosocial resources
- the development of short- and long-term rehabilitation programs, tailored on individual and family needs and resources at the psychological and social levels