Prevention during Prenatal and Infant Development

  • Kathleen A. McCluskey-Fawcett
  • Nancy Meck
  • Marybeth Harris


At no point in the human lifespan is prevention a more important issue than in the pre-, peri-, and neonatal periods. There are several reasons for this. First, the gestational phase is the most sensitive period of development, and the point in the life span when the developing infant is most vulnerable to environmental assault and trauma. Second, a handicapping condition occurring during this stage results in a medical, psychological, and financial burden being placed on the individual, the family, and society that may last a lifetime. Third, a more subtle implication for preventive issues in this age group is that this period is one of the greatest neural and behavioral plasticity. Plasticity is defined as the ability of the developing nervous system to make adaptive adjustments in response to changes in the internal or external milieu (Jacobson, 1978). If we translate this definition into behavioral terms, evidence suggests that the brain undergoes biological changes as a consequence of experiences that are inferred to result in changes in learning and memory (Lipton, 1976). These latter changes are subsequently manifested as previously unseen behaviors (Scarr-Salapatek, 1975). The key aspect of the preceding as it relates to the issue of prevention is that environmental experiences direct these biological and psychological changes. One may deduce that the manipulation of environmental circumstances can affect, if not actually determine, the potential of any individual. Because plasticity is most evident during the early years of life (Brodal, 1981), it seems reasonable to assume that it is during this time period that interventions designed to prevent or ameliorate handicapping conditions are likely to be most effective in achieving a desirable outcome.


Prenatal Care Spina Bifida Preterm Labor Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diabetic Mother 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen A. McCluskey-Fawcett
    • 1
  • Nancy Meck
    • 2
  • Marybeth Harris
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Children’s Rehabilitation UnitUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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