The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz
Found on the Adult Non-fiction shelves at ANF 618.9289 PER
Imagine crying over a book on psychiatry!! I did! I wept buckets over ‘The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog’. This book is a series of case histories about traumatised children, their pain and loss, and of hope and healing.
But I didn’t cry only out of sorrow, but for sheer joy and wonder that such a man as neuroscientist and child psychiatrist Professor Bruce D.Perry, M.D., PhD. exists. If ever there was a tender, insightful and compassionate man, it is he! His book is a mind opener and should be compulsory reading for any one who desires to be a parent. So many children are blamed, or medicated, for unwelcome behaviour when a lot of it can be due to a terrible ignorance of early brain development and lack of respect for that.
After birth the brain develops ‘explosively’ says Perry which means by age four the brain has developed to 90 percent of an adult brain. Correct, sequential development depends on the stimuli received. Lack of love and neglect can produce monsters, as Perry found. There was Leon who, at 18, murdered two teen age girls and raped their dead bodies. In court he asked why were the girl’s parents crying. “They aren’t going to jail,” he said.
He wasn’t insane, nor was he stupid; but as a child he met the criteria for attention deficit disorder and various other acronyms. What became chillingly clear Leon was totally without feeling. Why? He had a good, solid working class family and an elder brother Frank who was law abiding and loving. But due to circumstances, described in the book, four week old Leon was left alone all day in a dark room, with basic attention, for many months. For a time he cried bitterly, then he stopped. His mother heaved a sigh of relief. But from then on Leon stayed emotionless. Perry described him as being a classic sociopath, a person who was almost entirely a product of his early environment, not his genes.
Professor Perry, despite his qualifications and international recognition, doesn’t hesitate to say he owes a lot to a foster Mum called Mamma P. This person, says Perry, ‘ intuitively discovered’ what would become the foundation of the neurosequential approach to treating traumatised children. A child’s brain develops sequentially from the brain stem up and at what stage of development the trauma, or stress occurs, that’s where the appropriate treatment must be aimed. Chronological age doesn’t matter. “The key to healthy development, “says Perry,”Is getting the right experience in the right amounts at the right time.”
Mamma P. knew that. She could calm a child, regarded as uncontrollable at school, diagnosed as ADHD, ODD, whatever, by gently holding and rocking, or back rubbing. “She intuitively knew you don’t interact with traumatised children according to their age, but based on what they need, what they may have missed during sensitive periods of development,” said Perry.
So too was it with the boy raised as a dog. At five years Justin was regarded as ‘hopeless’, he couldn’t walk or talk, his brain scan showed shrinkage of the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of the brain). He had been cared for; kept clean, fed and watered but received no handling and no loving. Doctors concluded he was beyond help – until Professor Perry and his team found him, and started the long haul of awakening the boy’s brain.
Three years later Perry got a message and a photo of. Justin standing outside a school bus. At age eight he was starting kindergarten. The message written by Justin simply read, ‘Thank you Dr Perry’.
“I cried,” said Perry.
You have one last chance to enter the National Year of Reading Book Review Competition. There is a nice National Year of Reading prize pack to be won. Read the rules here and put your entry in for December.
The winner has, with their permission, their entry published here on this blog and if they are happy to, we also interview them for our Listeners in the Mist podcast.
December’s theme: Love2Read