Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Harvard Prof: Orphanage Care Stunts Brain Development

The article doesn't say whether this is new research, but it's about adoption/orphan care so I share it -- Harvard prof says orphanage care in Romania negatively affects brain & physical development of children:
Lack of stimulation in Romanian orphanages stunts brain development in children, Harvard Medical School Professor of Pediatrics Charles A. Nelson said at a Harvard China Care event Tuesday evening.

At the request of the Romanian government, Nelson studied the influence of childhood experience and early psycho-social deprivation on the brain in Romanian orphanages.
“Romania had a particularly egregious history,” Nelson said.

Communist policies have left an overwhelming population of abandoned children to state institutions.

Children in overcrowded orphanages often struggle with a stifling, highly-regimented daily routine, Nelson said.

These environments often cause social interaction and attachment problems, autism, and stunted growth.

Without stimulating experience, children develop “brain deprivation” as a result of social neglect.

Nelson’s study found that children suffering from brain deprivation appear physically stunted. The body appears to save essential growth hormones for brain development, he said.
About the only thing I hadn't heard before was this: "According to the study, girls do not suffer in institutions as much as boys. Girls also benefit more when they are placed in foster home."  Anyone have information on why orphanage/family care differs in effect on boys and girls?


Sharon said...

My thoroughly unscientific hypothesis would be that across many cultures, families show a preference for boys. Boys placed in an institution are probably less healthy, have a medical issue etc driving their surrender, vs. girls are given up simply because they're girls, with a larger population of healthy girls entering institutional care. I don't know much about Romanian culture, but I'm guessing huge number of institutionalized kids are from the Roma minority group, and that group's views on gender play a role.

bytheriver said...

I would wonder about the parameters of the study, when it was conducted, etc. Was this conclusion only for Romanian orphanages? When was the research done? When was it written up? Was it peer reviewed? In general, I think it is completely wrong that the impact depends upon the sex of the child. There must be other factors that have not been taken into account if this outcome is in fact correct. Also, how directly did the Romanian government supervise the research?

bytheriver said...

I did not find any reference to this supposed "finding" in related articles regarding the study and papers/texts prepared by Mr. Nelson. While it may be there, it or anything related to it was not referenced and not detailed. Is it possible that this is mis-reporting?

Annika said...

I wonder how much cultural expectations of what boys should be like and what girls should be like might influence a researcher to "find" that institutionalization is harder on boys than girls and that foster care improves the situation more for girls than boys? By which I mean quiet girls who don't make eye contact, don't run around, etc. are described as shy and those behaviors don't always raise alarm bells. But the same behavior in a boy may be seen as more jarring and get more attention. Likewise, a girl who helps her foster mother in the kitchen but doesn't run and play and rarely talks is docile, well behaved and helpful and may not be seen as a child who lacks social skills, etc.

Basically, wondering if researchers see a difference because their expectations for boys are farther from the norms of institutional behavior and the researchers are able to not see some of the effects on girls.

Anonymous said...

doesn't matter to me whether it's new research - most of the research posted from pear, ethica isn't new either. i don't think anyone can question whether kids in orphanages are stunted.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it has anything to do with any cultural desires for girls over boys...
Statistically and anecdotally, boys make up more of the patients of speech therapists, are more likely to have an IEP, are more likely to be autistic or have ADHD than girls...and these are well-nourished, well cared for boys from the US. I wish there would be more research on why the discrepancy between boys and girls in general.

PC said...

Nelson & Zeanah have done a lot of long-term research on Romanian orphans. This research was definitely peer reviewed. Both of these guys, and particularly Zeanah, have done lots of research on attachment. Zeanah is writing the new chapter on Reactive Attachment Disorder for the new release of the DSM. They studied 136 institutionalized children, 69 of whom were assigned to foster care, while 67 continued in institutional care, and they were compared to 60 kids from the community. Only about 25% of the children participating in the study were Roma, most were of Romanian ethnicity. I can't find a breakdown on gender.