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OU on the BBC: Child of Our Time 2010 - Calvin's story

Updated Monday, 2nd October 2006

What does Calvin's story tell us about child development?

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Calvin Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

This programme shows the way that the initial concerns about Calvin's development were then replaced by pleasure at his achievements at school, both in terms of popularity and abilities. Calvin's story illustrates clearly how difficult it is to predict the course of development when there are adverse circumstances and events.

Calvin's mother had an extremely difficult early pregnancy and Calvin was then born prematurely. There was some reassurance about the effects of prematurity because a scan did not show any areas of damage to his brain. Later, Calvin's mother and father separated; an event that often, and quite justifiably, raises concerns about the effects on children.

As Calvin grew older he appeared to have a limited vocabulary and some difficulties with motor co-ordination. At home and at nursery he showed signs of 'stilling', when he became immobile and unresponsive for short periods. In addition, at nursery his classmates did not choose him as one of their friends, and in return Calvin did not identify anyone he liked at his nursery.

All these events suggested that Calvin would have difficulties when he started school. But after some slight initial difficulties we see him as an animated, intelligent boy who is popular in his class.

Although there were worries and concerns that Calvin would face problems at school, we should bear in mind that there also were some strong positives in his life. Both his mother and biological father were reported as being of above-average intelligence and it is clear that both were committed to working through their separation with their children's interests in mind.

His mother came to the decision that Calvin was an able child and that she did not need to worry overmuch about him, and this probably resulted in positive behaviour that supported his efforts. Calvin also had a strong and close relationship with his sister. And he developed a strong positive relationship with his mother's new partner.

In considering Calvin's development, the programme refers to resilience. This is a term that psychologists use to describe situations when children who experience adverse circumstances develop better than might be expected. Although this term is usually applied to children who encounter greater difficulties than Calvin, it is still a useful idea to help us understand his development.

This is especially so, because one factor associated with resilience is having strong relationships and support from at least one other person. Although we cannot be certain what aspects of Calvin or the factors in his life resulted in his positive school experiences, we can see that child development is a complex and fascinating interplay of genetic and environmental influences. It also is clear that there is a need for more research to help us discover a lot more about all these processes.





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