Question: Why do you say the damage from lead poisoning is “permanent”? Isn’t that a melodramatic exaggeration, unnecessarily pessimistic or negative—and potentially damaging to the child? For their parent to language/experience this as something “permanent” that they can do nothing about?
Answer: Len and I get this question all the time. Folks criticize – suggesting that if you speak of lead poisoning as “permanent brain damage” you are “limiting the potential of your child”/ constraining their future – by your speaking that way.
Many feel that even uttering this simple scientific fact – as a reality – is in itself damaging and doesn’t “provide ‘space’ for the power of natural healing” or “positive energy”, nutritional support, or “natural chelation protocols” or other alternative medicine or other nurturing or rehabilitative interventions — and the child’s ability to grow and develop in spite of the permanence of lead poisoning.
Lead poisoning is permanent…
…that does not mean, however, that a lead-poisoned child can’t thrive and grow despite the injury/damage done, if given the appropriate effective resources and therapies.
The permanent damage is very specifically the damage to/destruction of neurons that were growing and developing at the time a child was poisoned.
With a child’s lead exposure, some particular neurons absorbed lead in the place of calcium and (in most cases) permanently ceased growth and development.
Those *specific* neurons in each case are permanently destroyed; this is why it is accurately termed “permanent brain damage” [which, where and how many neurons those may be will, of course, vary with each child, depending on many factors such as age, gender, individual genetics, and type and level and extent/length of exposure].
HOWEVER, this does not imply that the child will have little or no chance to survive and thrive in the future; it represents a handicap.
A lead-exposed child’s success depends on so much – starting with early blood lead testing and early identification of the child’s specific impairments. In each child the outcome of lead poisoning is unpredictable – the neurons that were damaged will impact different behaviors or skills and there is no way to predict this (for example based on age of exposure or highest blood lead level at the time of exposure are not indicators of any specific impairments) other than to watch a child develop with an eye to the impact of their lead exposure.
What parents can do is encourage the growth and development of the neurological functions that were not damaged – and use the strengths and skills a child still possesses to compensate for the damaged areas of their brain.
In our son Avi’s case, for instance, his brain injury due to lead poisoning resulted in the fact that his visual memory is severely impaired — placing him in the 4th percentile [so despite a very high I.Q., – and a quick and alert mind and a vast vocabulary – at age eleven, he can barely read at a kindergarten level!], however he has an excellent auditory memory. Accordingly, we encourage our son to participate in (and his teachers to provide for him) learning activities that teach him via an auditory rather than a primarily visual route. By advocating for and insisting on the availability and implementation of auditory support (verbal instructions – vs. only written, personalized lesson plans, individually-tailored assistance where necessary, audio books, etc.), Avi has transformed from a sad, very depressed, under-achieving, self-hating, alienated kid to a happy, confident and motivated, engaged student!
Is he “normal” (whatever that means)? No.
Can he be “mainstream-ed” at this time? No.
Is that/should that be the goal? Instead of focusing on excellence in academics, we think it is far more important that he be given every opportunity to develop self confidence, self-expression, social skills, independence, critical thinking and good judgement—and above all else, kindness, sweetness and empathy…vital skills for survival as a productive adult and responsible citizen in this world, and ones that are arguably in short supply among the general population today.
Permanent brain damage doesn’t mean the future is hopeless – it does, however, mean that the future will take more work and an appropriate, focused/concentrated effort for the child to be successful – and in order to do this, early identification (through proactive pediatric screening and blood lead testing) and subsequent assessment of the extent and scope of an exposed child’s impairment (via comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation) is imperative – and decisive in ensuring that child has an equal opportunity for success.
Feel free to post questions, thoughts and responses below.
Thank you for reading.
Tamara & Len Rubin
Parents of Lead Poisoned Children
Lead Safe America Foundation