Surviving the Early Years: The Importance of Early Intervention with Babies at Risk

Edited by Stella Acquarone

Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn

Editing an anthology isn’t easy. Theme-based anthologies are not simply a random collection of professional essays; the contributions must work well together. The theme must be narrow enough to support cohesion yet wide enough to appeal to a large enough audience and attract them beyond page one. The editor must consider a coherence of tone and theme—the interplay between various voices, different writing styles and content that must not only fit together but read with a sense of commonality and flow.

Stella Acquarone’s anthology, Surviving the Early Years: The Importance of Early Intervention with Babies at Risk, succeeds on many counts. The authors—all noted as experts in their clinical specialties—discuss themes relevant to the development of healthy parent-child relationships. They address dangers that can easily jeopardize the natural development of these key developmental relations and what’s important to improve and repair what’s been damaged by trauma (be it developmental, generational, situational and so on) (pg. 272).

The sad reality is, not all babies are born into perfect environments, into loving, skilled, healthy families. Many babies are born into difficult situations, ranging from experiences in intensive neonatal care units to contending with mothers with health conditions or extreme personal situations (the mother, or father for that matter, may be incarcerated, may be abused, may live in a war zone, may be depressed and affectively void). As well, one must consider the society and cultural practices the baby enters. Many families simply slog along, unlike mothers who, as Acquarone writes, recall the early years with their babies as a dance of understanding and development.

Acquarone highlights the need for better parental and infant support during the prenatal period and the need for greater availability of appropriate services and clinicians to accompany and support families beyond mere physical survival and innate resiliency in order to calm the fears and fallout of early traumatic beginnings, and to help make connections between these traumatic experiences and the traumatic consequences of survival. There’s much conversation about the capacities of newborns and the potentials that exist for parents and children.

Acquarone begins the book with a quote from the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

There passed a weary time, Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye
A weary time! A weary time!
How glazed each weary eye

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner depicts the story of a ship that set out “into a sunny and cheerful sea” yet sailed into frigid water and was caught in a maze of mast-high ice. It’s noted as an epic tale of despair and in this text functions as an emotional allegory of “the despair resulting from the unmet needs of infants, parents, and careers (with their little albatross) and the ‘sea’ of society in the early years” (pg. xxi).

Mariners, it seems, cling to hope to survive. Acquarone notes that the early years for many infants and families can be as despairing as what those sailors felt on their fateful journey. Sure, she writes, they may manage to survive but at what cost?

“This book is about the hope underlying the ability to survive the early years” (pg xxii). It brings readers face to face with the “wonderful capabilities of the newborn and the great potential for parents (mother and father) and child to continue growing together in a society that cares for them” (pg. xxiii).

Surviving the Early Years comprises three sections: Thoughts in Search of a Thinker; Reaching the Vulnerable at Risk from “External” Circumstances; and Vulnerable Groups Coming from “Internal” Fragile Circumstances. Acquarone writes the introduction, conclusion, and a chapter dealing with autism. Her introduction clearly sets the stage for the overall flow of the book and the topics of each paper (13 in total). Each section begins with a clear topic statement, repeated from the introduction, to further guide the reader’s focus. The content is academic, researched—extensive in-text citations and reference lists accompany each paper. The tone is clearly scholarly and the data meant to instruct though the authors write from personal (albeit) professional clinical experience. The papers in section one are clearly longer and have a more theoretical feel, more heady reading that without previous background knowledge means more time to assimilate the content. The papers in section two are shorter and contain more case examples—user friendly reading. Those in section three, also using case examples, contain more pictures and graphics to highlight the content, feeling a bit more like presentations within a textbook. The authors have much to offer and readers have much to gain by reading this book.

This review simply offers a snippet of each paper and will let readers explore the content more in-depth when they read the book.

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