May 16, 2006
The Cycle of Life
I just finished teaching Human Development across the Lifespan in Family Contexts. Itâ€™s a whirlwind tour of the human lifespan, from conception to death â€“ womb to tomb. Itâ€™s a very demanding course because of its sheer breadth. Out of all the possible things I could discuss in the 60 hours I have with the students, and out of all the possible things they could read â€“ whatâ€™s most important?
The array of students in the class adds further demands. This term, I had the range from PSEO students (high school students earning college credit) to graduating college seniors â€“ and majors ranging from family social science and child psychology to art, mechanical engineering, and architecture. Where to begin?? How to pitch such a class to satisfy such diverse studentsâ€™ needs?
One reason I like the course is because it challenges me professionally to think of the interconnectedness of life across the human life course and the role that families and relationships play in development. Iâ€™ve also enjoyed the opportunity to learn about topics that have become more salient since I last taught developmental courses â€“ especially about brain development and the biological bases of behavior. (The latter topic takes me back to my graduate student roots in behavioral genetics, which is very exciting.) I have also taken the opportunity to think in â€ścase studyâ€? terms about what specific conditions can teach us about human development. This semester, we spent some quality time on 3 â€śAâ€™sâ€? â€“ autism, ADHD, and Alzheimerâ€™s.
Autism may be due in part to the failure of the brain to prune (selectively destroy) the too-many synapses that are normatively generated during infancy. We are learning a lot about Alzheimerâ€™s from The Nun Study, a research project whose participants are the women from a religious community whose health and psychological histories have been well-documented for many years and who have all agreed to donate their brains to science after they die (since Alzheimerâ€™s cannot be definitively diagnosed except by autopsy.)
As this class ends and I have greeted a number of my students as they walked across the stage in the last commencement ceremony of the College of Human Ecology (1900 â€“ 2006), my own â€śhuman development practicumâ€? has awaited me. At one end of the lifespan, my second grandchild ... and first girl (!), Meredith Heller Grotevant, was born Friday, May 12. Her statistics: born at 3:20 pm; 6 lbs, 12 oz.; 19.5 pounds. Mother and baby both came through it with flying colors and father is so proud! (I havenâ€™t heard much about little brotherâ€™s reaction yet.) At the other end of the lifespan, my father has needed some new medical interventions that necessitated my travel to his home and retirement community. They donâ€™t call my age group the â€śsandwich generationâ€? for nothing.