Supporting Adaptive Brain and Behavior: The Abecedarian Approach to Social, Educational, and Health Disparities

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Virginia Tech

This paper places the Abecedarian Approach in theoretical and historical context and reviews the results from 3 randomized controlled trials that have tested an experimental protocol designed to prevent cognitive disabilities and their social consequences. Results affirm that cognitive disabilities can be prevented in early childhood and subsequent academic achievement enhanced via a multipronged comprehensive approach that contains individualized and responsive early childhood education starting in early infancy, coupled with pediatric health care, good nutrition, and family-oriented social services. Additional important findings reveal that the most vulnerable children benefited the most and that cognitive gains were not at the expense of children’s socio-emotional development or relationship to family. In general, mothers derived benefits in education and employment and teenage mothers especially benefited from their children participating in the early education treatment group. On the whole, the overall pattern of results supports a multidisciplinary, individualized, and long-term longitudinal perspective on human development and prevention science. Recent structural and functional brain imaging in the fifth decade of life shows persistent effects of intensive early educational treatment. Independent recent cost-benefit analysis in adulthood reveals a 7.3:1 return on investment with a 13.7% average annual rate of return. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications of the Abecedarian Approach to today’s highrisk population in the U.S. and with recommendations for further tailoring the protocol to better meet the multiple needs of vulnerable families.