Distinguished Lecturer Series July 2022


Please Join us Online Saturday, July 23 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM (PDT)


Program Agenda


Introductory Remarks

Barbara Firestone, PhD

President & CEO
The Help Group



The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive

W. Thomas Boyce, MD

Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Emeritus
University of California, San Francisco



Genes, Environments, and Time: the Biology of Adversity and Resilience

Pat Levitt, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer, VP & Director, Saban Research Institute
Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics, CHLA
WM Keck Provost Professor in Neurogenetics, Dept. of Pediatrics,
Keck School of Medicine, USC


Presentations will be followed by a Q & A

Course Description

The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive

W. Thomas Boyce, MD

Course Description:

This presentation will tell a story in three parts: First, rapidly gathering evidence suggests that early exposures to poverty, adversity and trauma become embodied within neurobiological processes that bias development toward psychiatric and physical morbidities. Such systematic shifts in health risk occur not only concurrently, within childhood itself, but also longitudinally, within lifetime trajectories of disease and disability. Second, these adversity-related health risks are highly variable from child to child and are influenced by even the most proximate, immediate experiences of social subordination. And third, recent findings indicate that lifelong accumulations of ill health are the consequences of neither genetic nor environmental variation in isolation, but rather are attributable to molecular level interactions between genes and aversive social contexts. Such interactions account for the striking individual differences in susceptibility to early life misfortune and portend an advancing convergence between biological and social accounts of human pathogenesis.

This story, based in nearly four decades of child-development research, lands on six key strategies for parents, clinicians and educators on what allows the orchid child to thrive and flourish.

Learning Objectives:

Following this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain the neurobiological consequences of exposures to toxic stress;
  2. Understand the social stratification of stress-related morbidities;
  3. Recognize the origins and implications of individual differences in stress reactivity; and
  4. Recount the role of the epigenome in the genesis of such differences.

Level of Instruction: Introductory


Genes, Environments, and Time: the Biology of Adversity and Resilience

Pat Levitt, PhD

Course Description:

The presentation will elaborate several key neuroscience-based concepts of early brain and child development. Five key components will be presented. First, the core ingredients of healthy child development lie in the building of healthy brain architecture, which is established through a combination of a genetic blueprint to establish fundamental organization that is advanced through a child’s experiences during critical periods of development. Second, neuroscience principles guide our understanding of how fundamental social, emotional and cognitive skills in children are established, and that these are inextricably entwined.  You cannot build one without building the others. Third, there are risks that early adversity pose for later mental and physical health challenges. Science informs us the mechanisms through which these ‘get under the skin’. Fourth, the brain and the body are connected – this is not surprising, but it is a fact that early life adversity generates toxic stress responses that can impact many functional systems beyond the brain. This may be the origin of higher risk for adult-onset diseases with high adverse childhood experiences. Fifth, there are pillars of opportunities for mitigating risk and encouraging resilience, including the promotion of supportive relationships, building of executive function skills, and reducing the major sources of chronic stress.

Learning Objectives

Following this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify the fundamental mechanisms of brain development that are involved in the wiring up of circuits related to social, emotional and cognitive functions.
  2. Define the key role of experience and critical periods in brain circuit maturation, and the factors that regulate timing of maturation in relation to neurodevelopmental disorders.
  3. Recognize the many ways in which toxic stress impacts the brain and body development.

 Level of Instruction: Introductory



Speaker Bios

About W. Thomas Boyce, MD

Thomas Boyce is a pediatrician and Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. Previously, he was Associate Dean for Research in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the BC Leadership Chair in Child Development at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He is past co-director of the Child and Brain Development Program for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, is a member of the JPB Foundation Research Network on Toxic Stress in Children, served on the Board on Children, Youth and Families of the National Academies of Science, and was elected in 2011 to the National Academy of Medicine.

Dr. Boyce’s research addresses individual differences in children’s biological susceptibility to social contexts, such as the family, classroom and community. His work, which has generated over 200 scientific publications, demonstrates that a subset of children (“orchid children”) show exceptional biological sensitivity to their social environments and bear higher risks of illness and developmental disorders in settings of adversity and stress. Such children confront considerable challenges to health and development, but given the right support, can thrive as much, if not more, than other children, often showing remarkable creativity and resilience under nurturing conditions. Taken together, findings from his research suggest that supportive and responsive early environments have powerful effects on children’s health and well-being. This work is the subject of his 2019 book entitled The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive (Knopf), which has been translated in twelve languages.


About Pat Levitt, PhD

Pat Levitt, PhD is the Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and WM Keck Provost Professor of Neurogenetics, Keck School of Medicine of USC. Dr. Levitt serves as the Chief Scientific Officer and Director of The Saban Research Institute at CHLA. He is a developmental neuroscientist pursuing basic research studies of brain circuit development, the influence of genetic diversity on symptom heterogeneity in neurodevelopmental disorders and the impact of toxic stress on metabolic and behavioral functions. His work examines molecular, behavioral and developmental traits of infants who are at risk for toxic stress due to early adversity, studies of brain activity for the earliest biomarkers of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk in infants, and oxidative stress in children with ASD and GI disturbances. His studies of infant resilience to adversity focus on the brain-based and metabolic changes that may have short and long-term impacts on mental and physical health.

Dr. Levitt is an elected member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine and Editor-in-Chief of Mind, Brain and Education Journal. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, and serves as Science Co-Director of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. He has published over 275 scientific papers, and presents to policy makers and service providers throughout the US, Canada and Mexico on the impact of early experience on child health. He serves on the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine governing board. Dr. Levitt received a BA in Biological Sciences from University of Chicago and PhD in neuroscience from University of California, San Diego.




Continuing Education

Continuing Education

For Professionals Seeking Continuing Education Credit

According to the guidelines set forth by accrediting organizations, attendance for professionals seeking credit at this Distinguished Lecturer Series will be tracked at the start and conclusion of the program, in addition, pop-up windows will appear to ensure attendance throughout the program. A link to attend will be provided via e-mail prior to the program.

At the end of the program, all participants will be asked to provide feedback through an online evaluation.

No partial credits will be given.

Continuing Education Certificates will be e-mailed to the registrant following the program.

The Help Group is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The Help Group maintains responsibility for the program and its content. The course offered is eligible for 2 hours and 2 continuing education credits.

The Help Group is approved by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to sponsor continuing education for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs. The Help Group maintains responsibility for this program/course and its content. The course offered meets the qualifications for 2 hours and 2 continuing education credits for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/LEPs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. (Provider #64310)

NOTE: If you are attending this virtual conference from any other state, outside of California, please check with your state board to see if you can receive continuing education for this program.

This program meets the qualifications for 2 hours and 2 continuing professional development credits for Speech-Language Pathologists as required by the California Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology Board. (Provider #PDP86)

NOTE: If you are attending this virtual conference from any other state, outside of California, please check with your state board to see if you can receive continuing education for this conference.

The Help Group is an AOTA Approved Provider of professional development. Course approval ID #02512. This Distance Learning-Interactive format is offered at .2 CEUs for Saturday, March 12th with an introductory educational level, in the categories of OT Service Delivery and Foundational Knowledge.

(AOTA) to assign continuing education units for occupational therapists. This course is eligible for up to .2 CEU. The assignment of AOTA CE units does not imply endorsement of specific course content, products or clinical procedures by AOTA. (Provider #6193)

Per AOTA guidelines, for this virtual event format, participants will be required to pass a post-test with a score of 75% or higher in order to receive CEUs. Failure to pass the post-test requirement, will result in forfeiture of credit for the entire course.

The Help Group provides Certificates of Attendance at the conclusion of the program for attendees.

If you have questions about continuing education, please contact:

events@thehelpgroup.org or call (818) 779-5210.



Accessibility: The Help Group is committed to making Virtual Distinguished Lecturer Series accessible to all individuals. If you anticipate needing assistance while viewing the conference, please contact events@thehelpgroup.org, no later than Friday, July 8.

Grievances: The Help Group complies with all legal and ethical responsibilities to be non-discriminatory in promotional activities, program content and in the treatment of program participants. To address a grievance for this program, or to view The Help Group’s grievance policy in its entirety.  Please email: events@thehelpgroup.org

Cancellation Policy: Cancellations must be received in writing by Monday, July 18.  Cancellations will be refunded the amount of registration less a $5 processing fee.