The True affect of Childhood Neglect on the Brain

By: Diego Javier

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Many of us are blessed to have a home that has running water, light, food, a bed to sleep on, and, most importantly, parents that love us. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, kids don’t have parents that love them or care for them. Some parents leave them behind after they’re born and put them in orphanages. This abandonment is unfortunate because a parent’s presence plays an important role in the development of their child’s brain. Instead, orphans grow up in an environment that changes their brains permanently. Evidence for this stunt in brain development is shown in countries around the world, such as Romania (source needed).

In Romania, they’re notoriously known for their poorly-kept orphanages. These orphanages were poorly kept in the 1990s because of their bad economy and not cared for by the Communist government. In these orphanages, there was scarce food, little electricity, and poor heating. The orphanages were understaffed and did not have enough workers. Because of this, there was not enough attention for each child from the caregivers.

 This neglect can stunt the development in a child’s brain. This is because babies need to be cared for and nurtured immediately after they’re born. Babies form this bond with their parent or guardian, but the Romanian orphans had no one to look out for them. These orphans are in cribs, where no one is talking to them or calming them down when they’re crying. When this happens, parts of their brain that helps develop emotion are miswired. For example on the radio show All Things Considered on NPR, a Romanian orphan was picked up and hugged by a visitor. The orphan did not let go of the visitor, clinging onto them like a magnet to metal. This is called indiscriminate friendliness, which is common for people that are raised in institutions. Also, how the children interact with other people is miswired. An activist who was raised in a Romanian orphanage, Izidor Ruckel, shared his experience about how he interacted with his adoptive parents. Ruckel had conflicts with his adoptive parents. Ruckel would respond to love and affection with anger. Even when leaving these orphanages, orphans still had emotional problems that they had to deal with.    

The neglect can also affect their intelligence. In a study used to measure the intelligence of the children, Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, Nelson used electroencephalography. This measures the amount of electrical activity in the brain. The results showed that the children had low levels of brain activity. Nelson said that “Instead of a 100-watt light bulb, it was a 40-watt light bulb.” Also, Nelson and other researchers performed MRIs to study the orphans’ brains. When the researchers found out the results, it showed that their brains had fewer brain cells and significantly smaller than the average child.

However, this damage can be reversible. Nelson and other researchers founded the Bucharest Early Intervention Project. This project put Romanian orphans into foster homes that would take care of the children and nurture them. The project monitored the children for five years and the results were incredible. The children’s IQ scores rose by 10 points and there were less depression and anxiety compared to those in the institutions. The children also grew physically in size. Institutions don’t provide the same environment as family life. Orphanages don’t put emotional needs on the same level as physical needs. This prevents a child from becoming the best version of himself and preventing him from reaching their full potential.