National Core for Neuroethics and KBHN hold successful community event about kid's brains

June 30, 2017

No topic was considered taboo at Tuesday night’s “Talking about your kids and their brains” event, where a room full of experts and inquisitive adults discussed issues such as depression, dyslexia, and stress in children.

The event—which was organized by the National Core for Neuroethics and Kids Brain Health Network—was designed to tackle a variety of issues pertaining to brain health in an environment that promoted open conversation.

“We had the opportunity for the community to bring their voices forward while providing them with wonderful experts to help stimulate discussion,” said event moderator Dr. Judy Illes, Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics. “We always bring the best people to the table whose interests match with those of Kids Brain Health Network.”

The three panelists—each equipped with a different area of expertise— gave a brief presentation before the audience was invited to ask questions.

“We wanted a variety of panelists instead of focusing on just one topic,” said Dr. Illes. “And it gave everyone the privilege of seeing them interact.”

Panelist Edith Brignoni-Pérez from Georgetown University started the night, discussing some of her PhD research regarding the neurofunctional bases of reading in bilingual and biliterate children. The hard-hitting topics of stress and effects on babies born to mothers who used antidepressants during pregnancy were then highlighted by Dr. Tim Oberlander, a developmental paediatrician at B.C. Children’s Hospital. Finally, the often murky waters of ethical considerations in research were covered by Dr. Eric Racine, Director of the Neuroethics Research Unit at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montreal.

The audience then launched into discussion-mode with the panelists. One of the first topics broached was depression, and why it seems as though more kids are now experiencing this mental health issue compared to 20 years ago.

“It comes down to what we expect of our children on a daily basis, and what tools we are giving them to cope,” responded Dr. Oberlander. He went on to hold up his iPhone and add, “I think there is something profoundly brain altering about this, which we are starting to see the effects of.”

Later in the event, a lively discussion was initiated on whether or not stimulants should be accessible over the counter. The topic seemed to leave both the panelists and the audience split, with some exhibiting a definitively negative reaction while others were more accepting of their use without a prescription.

This kind of participation and engagement contributed to the success of the event, encouraged in part by the composition of the audience. As diverse as the panelists, people were in attendance because of a mix of professional, parental, and general interests.

“When you’ve been away from school as long as I have, you find out that almost everything you learned is just wrong,” says Sandy MacDonald, who was a nurse for many years and says she came to the event because of general interest. “I’ve been on several ethics
committees, my mom had Alzheimer’s, and I have many nieces and nephews with ADHD, so I just came to get some knowledge," she said.

For Veronica Larson, the event was enticing because she has a young daughter.

“As a parent I think we were given some good reminders and this discussion scratched the surface—I definitely have more questions” she said. By the end of the night, although the official event had ended, the discussions did not. Instead, many people began approaching the panelists as well as each other to continue the conversation around child brain health.

“I think this event was really successful and I am excited to hold the next one,” concluded Dr. Illes.

Story reported by Vanessa Hrvatin

Image: Dr. Eric Racine discusses ethics as it pertains to research at the "Talking about your kids and their brains"  event organized by KBHN and the National Core for Neuroethics (Photo by Vanessa Hrvatin)