Monday, March 22, 2010

Researchers Still Learning from Romania's Orphans

With the fall of communism in Romania, vast amounts of orphans were left in over-crowded orphanages with little to no attention from caregivers. Scientists are still studying and trying to understand the effects from lack of sensory and social deprivation over time. These adoptions of Romanian children from these orphanages happened throughout the 90s. In 2001 the European Union put a stop to international adoption. Recently some children are reunited with birth families, in foster care, adopted domestically or living in small group homes.

When Charles Nelson, a Harvard professor that performed research on institutionalized children in Romania, went to visit an orphanage and a girl ran up to him with her arms wide open motioning him to pick the girl up, he did so without hesitating, the girl stiffens her body and does not cuddle. A woman started yelling don’t pick her up. Prof. Nelson learns that last time when someone picked her up, and then returned her to the ground she threw herself on the ground and repeatedly hit her head, as if it was her way of dealing with the rejection. This is called indiscriminate friendliness.

Children from the orphanages seemed to be growth stunted. Its not because of a lack of nutrition, but their bodies did not create enough growth hormones as a result (theory) of the stressful environment. The stress comes from lack of adult attention causes the body to conserve energy for brain development causing the IQs of the children to be almost 40 points lower than average.

Does this mean that you can train kids, and teach them vocation in an infant stage? Frank Lloyd Wright’s mom wanted him to be an Architect, so as a child he was given blocks/toys (called Froebel’s gifts) to shape his special thinking.

There was no foster care in Romania at the time. Researchers were funded to remove 66 children between the ages of 6 months and 2.5 years from the orphanages. They tracked the progress of children for 5 years in foster families. A little boy names Florene was assigned to a foster mom at 11 months, when he could not sit up (therefore he is about 5 months behind developmentally). Shortly after the placement at 12 months he could sit up and 14 he was walking.

The kids who left the orphanage under a year old progressed the most, IQ raising about 10 points, and had less depression and anxiety, than the kids in the institution. The frustration began when the rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder didn’t improve or disappear. In response to these studies healthy children under 2 are not supposed to be in orphanages.

Institutions cannot provide the attention necessary or the feeling of a family, therefore a family, whether it two parents and siblings or one parent, is the best way for a child to develop with mentally, physically and emotionally.

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