Prof. Simona Orcesi
0382 380280 (secretary’s office)
This research unit focuses on the child’s first years. Early development, the period from conception through the first years of life, is a critical window of growth characterized by high neuroplasticity; it is a sensitive period, in which the brain is highly susceptible to stimulation and input from the care environment. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is the period of life in which the foundations of future health are laid, and this applies both in normal and in pathological conditions.
Parenting is a central factor within the care environment during the first years of life, and it can also play a primary prevention role, helping to safeguard a child’s wellbeing and socio-emotional and socio-cognitive development. The influence of parenting in the early years takes on even greater significance in the presence of risk situations (e.g., preterm birth) or frank neuropsychiatric impairments, as in children with cerebral palsy, genetic and metabolic syndromes, psychomotor and neurocognitive delay, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Among other areas of research, this unit aims to shed light on the processes that help to define the quality of early parent-child interactions and relationships, and to promote effective preventive and rehabilitation interventions that involve the whole family.
Another “early years” field of research dealt with by this unit concerns the early diagnosis of nervous system pathologies, particularly in patients at risk of developing a neurodevelopmental disorder or disability (preterm infants or infants with problems in the pre-peri and/or post-natal period), and of rare diseases with early-onset neurological involvement. With regard to this latter area, it is important to be aware of, and able to recognize, certain “age-specific” neurological signs and symptoms, and also to remember that rare diseases, precisely because of their rarity, demand a targeted diagnostic approach. Such approaches are nowadays becoming increasingly effective thanks to the new opportunities offered by advances in genetics and new technologies. This research unit also endeavors, within a number of national and international collaborations, to promote the integration of healthcare and research activities in the above-mentioned areas. In so doing, it aims to help define disease phenotypes and natural histories, and to identify and verify new therapeutic strategies, always starting from the premise that the first years of life are the ones offering the best opportunities to lay the foundations for a better quality of life, in both the short and the long term.