Early Childhood Trauma : Early Life Neglect Damages Brain

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This article considers the effects of early childhood trauma with a focus on the Romanian Orphan Study.

The Romanian Orphan Study :

This research studied 125 teenagers who lived in (adoptive) loving and stable families BUT had, as infants, had suffered early childhood trauma as they had lived in the NEGLECTFUL ENVIRONMENT of ROMANIAN ORPHANAGES (renowned for their extremely poor conditions).

The Findings :

Using brain scanning technology, it was found that these teenagers had brains which contained LESS WHITE MATTER than the brains of a comparison group of comparable teenagers who lived in similar family environments BUT HAD NOT LIVED IN ROMANIAN ORPHANAGES AS INFANTS.

The brain’s white matter is involved in learning and facilitates the communication between different brain regions ; it is located deep within the brain. (Its volume can also be depleted as a result of excessive use of alcohol and aging.)

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Above : Brain scans showing anatomical differences between the brain of a normal three-year-old and that of a three-year-old who has experienced early childhood trauma (extreme neglect).

Deprivation :

It is suggests that the SENSORY DEPRIVATION that the teenagers experienced as infants in the appalling conditions in which they were kept (‘caretakers’ worked in factory- like shifts and the infants might have up to 17 such carers each week, thus depriving them of sustained, one-to-one, loving contact), anatomically, adversely affected brain regions involved in :

– cognitive processing

– attention

– emotional processing

Specifically, Which Brain Regions Were Damaged?

PET scans (PET scans – or positron emission topography scans – are a type of brain scan) revealed that the main regions of the brain that were damaged by this early life neglect and deprivation were :

– the amygdala

– parts of the hippocampus

– the brain stem

– parts of the prefrontal cortex

– the orbital frontal gyrus

The PET scan revealed that all of the above brain regions had abnormal activity in the teenagers who had lived in the Romanian orphanage during their early lives compared to the comparison group of teenagers.

To read my eBook on how neglect and other forms of early childhood trauma can affect the physical development of the brain, click on the image below:

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

 

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