boy raised as dog
(2006) by Bruce D Perry (@BDPerry) & Maia Szalvatiz (@maiasz – unbroken brain)
for our purposes there are 4 major parts of brain:
- brainstem – simplest – developed first (thumb) – regulatory functions: body temp, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure
- diencephalon – simplest – developed first (fatty of thumb) – emotional responses: fear, hatred, love, joy
- limbic system – more complex (folded dollars inside hand – completely internal) – emotional responses: fear, hatred, love, joy
- cortex – even more complex (fingers and hand around bills) – regulates most complex: speech, language, abstract thinking, planning, deliberate decision making
most psychoactive meds work like copied keys, fitting into the locks mean to be opened by particular neurotransmitters and fooling the brain into opening or closing their doors
over the years.. i was delighted and relieved by her apparent progress. there were no more reports of ‘inappropriate behavior’ at school. she was doing her homework, going to class and no longer fighting w other children
ugh – school ness
what i’d taught her , it seemed, was not to change her behavior, but to better hide her sexualized activity and other problems from adults and to control her impulses in order to avoid getting in trouble.. on the surface she could make others think she was behaving appropriately but inside she had not overcome her trauma
i realized that some of her symptoms could be fixed by changing her overreactive stress response, yet that would not erase her memory. i began to think that memory was what i needed to understand before i could do better
(on kids from waco).. two of the key brain regions involved w fear are the locus coeruleus, the origin of the majority of noradrenaline neurons in the brain, and an almond shaped part of the limbic system called the amygdala
to calm a frightened child, you must first calm yourself..
i soon discovered the cps workers, law enforcement officers and mental health workers involved in trying to help the children were all overwhelmed, stressed out an in a state of alarm themselves..
if the only thing you are taught is to comply, you have little way of knowing what you like and want.. t
in the beginning there was a push by some in our group to start ‘therapy’ w the children. i felt it was more important at this time to restore order and be available to support, interact with nurture, respect, listen to, play with and generally ‘be present’..
incidentally, since waco, research has demonstrated that rushing to ‘debrief’ people w a new therapist or counselor after a traumatic even is often intrusive, unwanted and may actually be counterproductive.. some studies in fact find a doubling of the odds of ptsd following such ‘treatment’..
as we charted these contacts we found that, despite having no formal ‘therapy’ sessions, each child was actually getting hours of intimate, nurturing, therapeutic connections each day. the child controlled when, w whom and how she interacted w the child sensitive adults around her.. the children could eek out what they need, when they needed it. this created a powerful therapeutic web
working w the davidian children and seeing the unfolding crisis in waco from the inside repeatedly reiterated to me how powerful group influences are in human life
we learned that some of the most therapeutic experiences do not take place in ‘therapy’ but in naturally occurring healthy relationships..t
the children who did best after the davidian apocalypse were not those who experienced the least stress of those who participated most enthusiastically in talking with is.. the ones who did best were released into the healthiest and most loving worlds
what works best is anything that increases the quality and number of relationships in the child’s life
it is thru the 1000s of times we respond to our crying infant that we help create her healthy capacity to get pleasure from future human connection..t
toddler scraps knee looks to mom.. if doesn’t look worried.. child doesn’t cry; if baby sees a looks of concern, wailing begins.. this is one of the most obvious ie’s of the complex dance that occurs between caregiver and child that teaches emotional self regulation
a class of nerve cells in the brain know as ‘mirror’ neurons, which respond in synchrony w the behavior of others.. this capacity for mutual regulation provides another basis for attachment ie: baby smiles.. mother smiles.. .. sense of connectedness
if smiles ignored.. if repeatedly left to cry a lone.. not fed, or fed roughly w/o tenderness or w/o being held.. positive association between human contact and safety, predictability and pleasure may not develop…
the attachment between a baby and his first primary caregivers is not trivial: the love a baby feels for his caregivers is every bit as profound as the deepest romantic connections. indeed, it is a template memory of this primary attachment that will allow baby to have healthy intimate relationships as an adult
w/o love children literally don’t grow.. laura wasn’t receiving the physical nurturing her body needed to know she was ‘wanted’ and that it was safe to grow
many young victims of abuse and neglect need physical stimulation, like being rocked and gently held, comfort seemingly appropriate to far younger children.. she knew you don’t interact w these children based on their age but based on what they need, what they man have missed during ‘sensitive periods’ of development..t
these children had never received the repeated, patterned physical nurturing needed to develop a well regulated and responsive stress response system.. they had never learned that they were loved and safe; they didn’t have the internal security needed to safely explore the world and grow w/o fear.. they were starving for touch..
though we all ‘perform’ for others to some extend, the mask slips easily for those who have suffered early neglect. . there are shadows of the disrupted nurturing of their early childhoods.. the nature and timing of our developmental experiences shape us.. like the people who learn a foreign language late in life, virginia and laura will never speak the language of love w/o an accent
leon could see that other people liked to be hugged and touched, but since his own needs for that had been neglected, he began to find it repellent..t.. he could see that other people enjoyed interacting w each other, but because he’d been denied early attention, it now mostly left him cold. he just didn’t understand relationships..
because he’d been neglected when key social circuitry of the brain was developing he couldn’t’ really appreciate the pleasure of pleasing someone else or receiving the praise, nor did he suffer particularly from the rejection that followed if his behavior displease teachers or peers.. having failed to develop an association between people and pleasure, he saw no need to do as they wished, felt no joy in it.
no desire in making them happy, and didn’t care whether or not they got hurt
cog develop of his cortex did however allow leon to take note of how other people behaved. over time he became able to mimic appropriate behavior when he wanted to. this allowed him to manipulate others into getting what he wanted.. for him people were just objects that either stood in his way or acceded to his needs..
research has repeatedly found that surrounding a child w other trouble peers only tends to escalate bad behavior.. in special ed.. he found other antisocial peers who reinforced each other’s impulsivity.. partners in crime.. egging each other on and modeling for each other the idea that violence is the best was to solve problems… leon learned to copy the worst of human behavior.. but remained unable to understand why he should imitate the best
one reason autistic children may not talk is that they don’t recognize the need to communicate; they aren’t aware that other people don’t know what they know..
she thought a quiet baby meant a happy baby..t
hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours were spend fruitlessly trying to treat his various ‘disorders’.. no one discovered his history of early neglect..t.. (left alone all day as baby)
these children need patterned, repetitive experiences appropriate to their developmental needs, needs that reflect the age at which they’d missed important stimuli or had been traumatized, not their current chronological age..
studies of premature babies find that gentle, skin to skin contact helps them gain weight, sleep better and mature more quickly.. preemies who received such .. went home from hospital almost a week earlier on avg. in oder children and adults massage has also been found to lower blood pressure, fight depression and cut stress by reducing the amount of stress hormones released by the brain
parents who learn infant and child massage techniques develop better relationships w their children and feel closer to them..
now it was time to work on his sense of rhythm. it may seem odd but rhythm is extraordinarily important. if our bodies cannot keep the most fundamental rhythm of life – the heartbeat – we cannot survive.. regulating this rhythm isn’t a static, consistent task, either: the heart and the brian are constantly signaling each other in order to adjust to life’s changes.. ..regulating heart rate during stress and controlling stress hormones are two critical tasks that require that the brain keep proper time..
also numerous other hormones are rhythmically regulated as well.. the brain doesn’t just keep one beat: it has many drums.. which must all sync not only w the patterns of day and night (in women menstrual cycles of phases.. pregnancy and nursing)_ but also w each other.. disturbances to the brain’s rhythm keeping regions are often causes of depression and other psychiatric disorders.. this is why sleep problems (in some sense a misreading of day and night) almost always accompany such conditions..
most people don’t appreciate how important these rhythms are in setting the tone for parent/child interactions either..
in the usual course of development a baby gets into a rhythmic groove that drives these various patterns. the infant’s mother cuddles him while he eats, and he is soothed by her heartbeat. in fact, the infant’s own heart rhythm may be partly regulated by such contact: some sudden infant death syndrome deaths, according to one theory, occur when babies are out of physical contact w adults and thus lacking crucial sensory input..
maternal heart rate provide the patterned, repetitive signals – auditory, vibratory and tactile that are crucial for organizing the brainstem and its important stress regulating neurotransmitter systems
interestingly the rate at which people rock their babies is about 80 beats per minute, the same as a normal resting adults heart rate.. to soothe our children we return them physically to the beat of the master timekeeper of life..
some theories of language development suggest that humans learned to dance and sing before we could talk.. that music was actually the first human language..
in oder to make up for what he’d lost, we decided to have connor participate in a music and movement class that would help him consciously learn to keep a beat and we hoped help his brain get a more general system of rhythm..
she like so many parents of struggling children, just wanted us to find the ‘right’ meds and teach connor to ‘act’ his age
after he’d learned to successfully sustain a rhythm, i began parallel play therapy w him. the music and movement class and massage therapy had already improved his behavior..
if someone hasn’t developed the ability to understand the clearly defined rules of the parent/children relationships trying to teach him peer relations is almost impossible..
? i don’t know about ‘clearly defined rules’ ..
working w connor it hit me over and over again how sophisticated and subtle much of human communication is.. we use more social cues that i had ever realized and i had no idea how to teach them (ie: how long to look each other in the eye)
conversations have a rhythm to them, but connor didn’t yet know how to play along..
children whose stress response systems are naturally better regulated from birth are easier babies, so their parents are less likely to get frustrated w them and abuse or neglect them..
intelligence is another critical factor.. one that is often poorly understood. intelligence is basically faster info processing: a person requires fewer repetition of an experience to make an association.. tis property of intelligence appears to be largely genetically determined..
needing fewer repetitions to build an association may alow smarter kids to more quickly connect people w love and pleasure,even when they dont’ receive what is usually the bare minimum of stimulation require to cement those links.. this quality might also allow them to benefit more from brief experiences of loving attention outside the family, which can often help severely abused and neglected children recognize that the way it is at home is not necessarily the way it is everywhere, a realization that can offer them much needed hope..
? smarter..? genetically..?
intelligence may also help protect young people in other ways from developing the kind of rage and sociopath we saw in leon. for one, it allows them to be more creative when making decisions. giving them more options and creating the likelihood they’ll make bad choices.. this also helps them avoid a defeatist attitude, thinking ‘there’s nothing else i can do’.. being able to envision alt scenarios may also help increase impulse control.. if you can think of a better future, you may be more likely to plan for it.. (and be empathetic to others).. however intelligence alone is probably not enough to keep a child on the right track..
? i don’t know.. i think this is more feeling free to be .. rather than intelligence..
another factor is the timing of the trauma: the earlier it starts the more difficult it is to treat and the greater the damage is likely to be..
but perhaps most important factor.. is the social environ in which the child is raised.. ie: extended families.. to make up for limitations.. more resources/knowledge
in last 15 years numerous nonprofit orgs and govt agencies have focused on importance of ed about appropriate parenting and early childhood development.. the hope of these efforts is to make this kind of neglect far less likely to occur due to ignorance. i believe they have a significant impact. however, the age segregation in our society, the lack of integration of these key concepts in to public ed and the limited experience many people have w young children before they have their own still puts far too many parents and their children at risk
because trauma – including caused by neglect whether deliberate or inadvertent – cause an overload of the stress response systems, which is marked by a loss of control, treatment for traumatized children must start by creating an atmosphere of safety.. to recover they must feel safe and in control.. consequently, the last thing you want to do is force treatment on these children or use any kind of coercive tactics.. t
(on using holding therapy – holding & forcing child to tell story of trauma in order to bond w foster parent.. also holding and tormenting – some started in evergreen co) the danger lies in their solution to the problem. using force or any type of coercion on traumatized, abused or neglected children is counterproductive: it simply retraumatizes them.. trauma involves an overwhelming and terrifying loss of control.. putting people back into situations over which they have no control recapitulates this and impedes recover.. this should go w/o saying but holding a child down and hurting him until he says what you want to hear does not create bonds of affections, but rather, induces obedience thru fear
this trauma bond is also known as stockholm syndrom: children who have been tortured into submission ‘love’ their foster parents the way kidnapped newspaper heiress patty hearst ‘believed in’ the cause w her symbionese liberation army captors.. incidentally, children’s love and obedience also tend to fade over time if the abuse is not continually repeated..
the ideology of holding fit easily in to the families’ religious beliefs that children who were spared the rod would be spoiled and that children’s wills must be broken in order for them to learn to avoid sin and temptation..
another pernicious belief came into play.. one that unfortunately is still widely held in the mental health field. i call it the ‘psychic pus’ theory.. this is the idea that, like a boil that needs to be lanced, certain memories are toxic and must be excavated and discussed in order for people to recover from trauma.. many people still spend hours in therapy.. trying to find the one memory that will help their lives make sense and instantly resolve their current problem..
in fact, memory doesn’t work this way.. the problem w traumatic memories tends to be their intrusion into the present, not an inability to recall them.. when they intrude, discussing them and understanding how they can unconsciously influence our behavior can be extraordinarily helpful.. for people whose memories don’t negatively affect them in the present, pressuring them to focus on them may actually do harm…
i tried to keep the moment light.. trauma is best digested bit by bit..
cutting releases brain opioids, which makes it esp attractive to those who have been previously traumatized and found relief in dissociation.. an attempt at self medication.. same is true of people who use drugs like heroin or oxycontin.. contrary to popular belief, most people whoe try these drugs do not find them overwhelmingly blissful.. in fact, most people don’t like the numbing sensation they produce.. but those who suffer after effects of severe stress and trauma are likely to find these substances soothing and comforting, not deadening..
curiously stimulant drugs like cocaine and amphetamine replicate the other common natural reaction to trauma: the hyper arousal response.. both drugs increase the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline… both of those brain chemicals skyrocket during hyper arousal.. just as the dissociative experience bears a physiological and psychological resemblance to the opioid ‘high’ the stimulant high is physiological and psychological comparable to the hyper aroused state.. in both stimulant ‘highs’ and hyper arousal, the person experiences an elevated heart rate.. heightened senses and a feeling of power and possibility.. that feeling is needed to fuel fight or flight but it also explains why stimulants increase paranoia and aggression..
it’s hardly surprising that babies find being left alone to sleep distressing.. (for countless generations humans lived in small groups, 40-150 people.. communally – didn’t have own room.. own bed.. not just mother and child.. or 5 children to one daycare worker..).. t
one of best ways to help someone else become calm and centered is to calm and center ourselves first – and then just pay attention..t
over and over again the research finds that if you use force, if you push people to open up when they aren’t ready.. if you require participation in therapy, if you don’t respect individual differences, then your treatment can actually do serious harm.. coercive therapies are dangerous and ineffective for victims of trauma.. force creates fear..