Rutter et al. (1998) studied 111 Romanian orphans adopted before 2 years and found that the sooner the children were adopted, the faster their developmental progress.
In Rutter’s subsequent research in 2007, he assessed children reared in profoundly depriving institutions in Romania and subsequently adopted into UK families. Institutionally deprived adoptees were compared at 11 years with children who had not experienced institutional deprivation and who had been adopted within the UK before the age of 6 months. Parental reports, a modified Strange Situation and investigator ratings of the children’s behaviour were all assessed. Results revealed that disinhibited attachment was strongly associated with institutional rearing but there was not a significant increase in relation to duration of institutional deprivation beyond the age of 6 months. In contrast only mild disinhibited attachment was more frequent in non-institutionalised adopted children.
Chugani et al. (2001) administered PET scans to a sample of 10 children adopted from Romanian orphanages and compared them with 17 normal adults and a group of 7 children. Assessments showed mild neurocognitive impairment, impulsivity, and attention and social deficits. Specifically, the Romanian orphans showed significantly decreased activity in the orbital frontal gyrus, parts of the prefrontal cortex/hippocampus, the amygdala and the brain stem. Chugani concluded that the dysfunction in these brain regions may have resulted from the stress of early deprivation and might be linked to the long-term cognitive and behavioural deficits.
Research support – There is a large body of evidence which supports the concept of the critical period and the importance of early intervention where children are being privated. Rutter’s research is consistent with Bowlby and Harlow (58). More recent neurological evidence supports the damaging effects that privation can have on specific brain structures (Chugani 2001).
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