The Brazelton Touchpoints Center is an outgrowth of the pioneering work of T. Berry Brazelton, MD, Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School, and one of the most influential scientists, clinicians, and advocates in pediatrics and child development of the twentieth century.
Author of over 200 scholarly papers, he also wrote 30 books on pediatrics, child development and parenting. Translated into more than 20 languages, these include the now classic Infants and Mothers and the bestselling Touchpoints series. With his most recent and prolific collaborator, Joshua Sparrow MD, he wrote the “Families Today” New York Times syndicated column, The Brazelton Way series, and Touchpoints Three to Six.
Dr. Brazelton’s keen insights and observations contributed entirely new understandings of newborns—their behavior, their temperament, their interactions with family and other caregivers—and new awareness of the complexity and reciprocal influences of human development. Dr. Brazelton’s findings and ideas, many of which are now fully integrated into mainstream research and practice, were often ahead of their time and faced opposition from the medical establishment. In describing Brazelton’s work as a paradigm shift analogous to the Copernican revolution, noted psychologist Dr. Barry Lester wrote in Nurturing Children and Families: Building on the Legacy of T. Berry Brazelton, “T. Berry Brazelton put the baby at the center of the universe of the science of child development, and revolutionized how we think about, understand and study children.”
The work of Dr. Brazelton and his team continues to evolve. True to his early focus on the complex dynamics of development and relationships, the Brazelton Touchpoints Center is increasingly concerned with how larger systems of care—institutions and whole communities—can best support children and families.
Nurturing Children and Families captures his path-breaking contributions and breadth of influence. As described by Dr. Lester and Dr. Sparrow, Dr. Brazelton’s creativity and openness to new possibilities and ways of understanding allowed him to see connections among new ideas emerging around him and his observations. But the potency and influence of ideas also depend on their articulation.
Brazelton’s unusual talent for communication positioned him to bring together these ideas, make them comprehensible, and express their power. As the most eloquent and effective spokesperson of his generation for new understandings of infants, children, families, and their development, he must also be credited with both stirring up the choir in his midst to sing more loudly, and with readying the broadest audience ever for its message.
Over the years, Dr. Brazelton was able to take his scientific findings, and those of his colleagues, and help parlay them into dramatic, nationwide changes in practice, service delivery, and policy.
For example, research on the effects on newborns of anesthesia during labor contributed to the resurgence of natural childbirth. Findings on the effects of overstimulation on infants born preterm led to the reduction of sensory exposures in neonatal intensive care units. Observations of the effects of separation from parents on hospitalized children as they recovered from illness or surgery led to family-friendly pediatric hospitals and rooming in.
In the policy realm, understandings about the effects of environmental toxins on newborn and infant behavior contributed to the removal of lead from gasoline in the United States. Studies of the astonishing advances in the parent-child relationship in the first three months of life helped make the case for the Family and Medical Leave Act. Hypotheses about the remarkable plasticity of infant brains before radiation-free brain imaging techniques became available to prove them fueled legislation to mandate early intervention for children under age three with special needs.
He has frequently appeared before Congressional committees, and played a pivotal role in the enactment of Public Law 99457, which extends the rights and protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to young children. In 1989, he was appointed to the National Commission on Children, raising public awareness of the plight of young children living in poverty, and urging the inclusion of their needs and rights in the national political agenda. Dr. Brazelton was President of the Society for Research in Child Development for the 1987-1989 term and the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs from 1988-1991.
In 1950, Brazelton began a private pediatrics practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts and became interested in understanding children beyond pathology and disease. He began conducting research with parents and babies with the goal of achieving a better understanding of infants’ behavioral and developmental progression. In 1972, Brazelton established the Child Development Unit (CDU), a pediatric training and research center at Boston Children’s Hospital. Now a division in the Department of Medicine (Division of Developmental Medicine), the CDU offered doctors the opportunity to conduct research on child development and train for clinical work with parents and children. In 1973, he published his Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), used worldwide in research and in clinical interventions to facilitate parent-infant understanding and interactions. The NBAS has inspired numerous infant assessment tools and hundreds of research publications.
In 1996, in an effort to reach more children and families, and to continue influencing research, practice and policy, Dr. Brazelton brought together a team of scholars and practitioners to establish the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, named after one of the salient patterns he observed early on among his young patients and their families.
Dr. Brazelton has been honored with numerous distinguished awards, including in recent years:
- Living Legend, Library of Congress 200th Anniversary
- René Spitz Award for Lifetime Contributions to Infant Mental Health, World Association for Infant Mental Health, Amsterdam
- Cardinal Health Children’s Care Hannah Neil World of Children Award, World of Children, Inc. New Albany, OH. for significant lifetime contribution to the health and well-being of children
- Lifetime Achievement Award, American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, Boston
- Humanitarian of the Year Award, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Boston
- Edna Reiss-Sophie Greenberg Chair, Recognizing Outstanding Professionals in the Field of Child/Adolescent Mental Health
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Zero to Three
- Distinguished Contributions to the Lives of Children Award, Society for Research in Child Development
- White House Champion of Change
In 2013, on the eve of his 95th birthday, Dr. Brazelton received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian honor.