Infant brain development is the focus of a new city health campaign urging parents to talk to their babies. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Conversations come easy between Martha Arrucha and her daughter Valerie Martinez. The two have been chatting away together since she was born. They're participants in Bellevue Hospital's Video Interaction Project or VIP.
"What we are doing is to help parents to help their children by providing the kind of stimulation that is going to help their brains to develop in a way that is going to help be ready for school," explains Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital.
Mothers are recorded on video interacting with their babies at sessions timed with each doctor appointment. Program staffers then review the videos with each mom, highlighting which interactions are best for their kids.
"They see the reaction they illicit in their child and that can be very powerful. And that's the kind of thing that helps parents be less shy about you know being silly, making funny voices," says Adriana Weisleder, Research Scientist at NYU and Project Director for the Bellevue Project for Early Language Literacy and Education Success.
The program, a collaboration with NYU, targets low-income mothers, many of whom have not completed high school. It's an effort to reverse some of the negative impacts of poverty.
Pediatrician Alan Mendelsohn says their research shows that children in the program are less likely to lag behind their peers once in school.
"A child who has participated in our program is more likely to be able to talk on schedule and use those words to, what we call, regulate their behavior, pay attention in school and learn," he adds.
Interaction is monitored from birth to five years.
Valerie is now six and recently came in for an assessment.
"She does math when she’s not at school, she’s counting, she’s doing calculations, 10 plus 5 is 15, that’s using her imagination. A lot of kids need a book in front of them, she doesn’t," says Martha Arrucha.
"When my mom is cooking or doing something I read by my own," says Valerie Arrucha.
Parents also benefit. They're less stressed, less depressed and their children - able to express themselves - are less likely to act out.