Children are resilient, a common aphorism, but not necessarily true. Renowned child psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce Perry has researched how a child's environment, particularly those who encounter trauma, affects the child's brain development. Perry talks about his clinical work with children, who experienced trauma, how that stress led to both physical and mental health complications and what can be done to improve the lives of at-risk young people. He also talks about our society and how our ancient ancestors had much more supportive social structures for children than today's youth.
Perry began his career as a neuroscientist and child psychiatrist in the mid-1980's where he gained an understanding that the earliest experiences of babies and young children affected their overall development. In his book, "The Boy Who was Raised As A Dog," he shares stories about some of his patients who experienced trauma including children who witnessed the murder of a parent, children released from the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and a child who lived in a cage. The book, co-written with science journalist Maia Szalavitz, explains the complexity of outcomes that can be caused from neglect, maltreatment or specific traumatic event even in the first few months of a baby's life. Yet, it is not examples of lives tragically broken, Perry also offers therapeutic strategies to assist these children to overcome some of the damage.
Research and involvement with his patients led Perry to realize that children can suffer from post-traumatic-stress syndrome, not just soldiers returning from war. He found that sometimes, children who were acting out had experienced stress or trauma early in their development that caused them to act in a socially inappropriate manner. Perry witnessed that not all parents inherently give their children the proper positive physical and emotional attention needed for their babies to grow and thrive. At times, extreme intervention is needed for parents and caregivers to be taught how to care for the needs of a child.
Jane Whyde, executive director of Franklin County Family and Children First, says that "In a time when we are focused on the importance of kindergarten readiness, third grade reading promise and high school graduation, Perry gives us keys to helping youth be able to learn and succeed in a school setting." She continues, "If we want, as a culture, to ultimately produce tax payers instead of tax consumers, this is the essential place to start. As communities, we must prioritize making this a safe and welcoming world for children, and partner with parents to assure that children have what they need to grow into strong, healthy, contributing adults."