I’ve Been Reading

First up is, “The Boy who was raised as a Dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook” by Dr. Bruce D. Perry.

I actually began reading this in a bookstore in PA while on my anniversary trip last November.  I read the first couple of chapters before having to leave, and finally bought a copy the end of December.   It contains fascinating and terribly sad stories of abuse and neglect but also some success stories.

The author is big on neuroscience and the development of the brain.  He has been able to effectively help many children by recognizing the age of the child when the neglect/abuse occurred and then comparing that to the development of the brain in that same period.

Some of his helpful therapies include holding and rocking older kids who didn’t get that as babies. Although parents and adults thought a problem child was being “babied,” they really needed it.  There were examples such as a 6 year old who was experiencing “failure to thrive”.  Doctors assumed all kind of stomach problems or even genetic anorexia.  By talking with the mother he realized a disconnect.  Because of the mother’s childhood of neglect, numerous foster homes, etc. she was smart enough to take care of the baby physically but didn’t know how to be a mom otherwise..

Dr. Perry oversaw the evaluation and help for the children rescued from the Branch Davidian (David Koresh, Waco, TX) group.

The story about the boy raised as a dog (in a cage by a step-grandfather who didn’t know what to do and requested help from social services) wasn’t even the saddest.  Two other boys endured long periods of severed neglect.  A mentally handicapped mom and then a babysitter who left babies alone all day long for months!  9-5!  One child became a sociopath who killed two girls as a teenager.  The other boy made great recovery.  Therapies used for this second boy included a rhythm class and massaging.  He walked funny and did not like to be touched.

Dr. Perry associated the rhythm problem to lack of being rocked as a baby.  He talked about how parents naturally rock a baby at the perfect rate, which equals a healthy heart rate.  Pre-K-level rhythm classes for a teenager helped him a lot.  Massage therapy helped him to actually initiate a hug with his mom for the first time.

The most interesting story may have been a small-town abuse/Satanic cult scandal in Texas.  It was discovered that fundamentalist foster parents were using a “holding” method which was pretty much torture, resulting in children claiming whatever the adult wanted to hear.  Perry was brought in to help discern which kids were telling the truth about abuse and which had been forced to make up stuff or agree with the religious nuts.

The book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes psychology/sociology, child development, social work, foster care, and neuroscience (although he doesn’t get too technical on the neuroscience).  His modern, evolutionary philosophy shows itself a couple of times but does not detract from the book.

Bruce wrote a second book about the significance of empathy in society that I would like to read as well.


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