• The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

    By Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz


    The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog is a captivating book which explores the devastating emotional, physical, and psychological effects of early trauma on children. Perry takes the reader through his child psychiatry notebook and discusses stories of children’s lives when they are the most “desperate, alone, sad, and wounded,” yet most of these stories are ultimately filled with hope.

    Tina’s World -

    Perry describes his first child patient Tina, who was seven years old when he met her. She had been “aggressive and inappropriate” with her classmates and tried to get them to engage in sex play after she had been severely sexually abused by a male neighbor. She had been assaulted at least once a week for two years. Through this case Dr. Perry learned the following:

    Ø  Early influences can literally leave imprints on the brain that last a lifetime.

    Ø  A very brief stressful experience, at a key time in the development of the brain, resulted in alterations in stress hormone systems that can last into adulthood.

    Ø  Early experiences with those around us mold our worldviews. If early experiences are aberrant, these predictions may guide our behavior in dysfunctional ways. In Tina’s world males larger than she were frightening demanding creatures who forced her into sex. The scent, sight and sounds associated with them came together to compose a set of “memory templates” that she used to make sense of the world.

    For Your Own Good -

    Perry’s second case involved a three-year-old girl named Sandy who had witnessed the murder of her own mother. Through this case Dr. Perry learned the following:

    Ø  For infants and young children, incapable of or ineffective at fighting or fleeing, a dissociative response to stressors is common. In extreme dissociative experiences, the person becomes completely focused inward and disconnected from reality. People often report feeling emotionless or numb, as though they are watching what’s happening to them from outside their body.

    Ø  Recovery from trauma requires that the victim return to a situation that is predictable and safe. Our brains are naturally pulled to make sense of trauma in a way that allows us to become tolerant to it, to mentally shift the traumatic experience from one in which we are completely helpless to one in which we have some mastery.

    Stairway to Heaven -

    In 1993, the FBI and its hostage negotiation team secured the release of twenty-one children during the raid of the Branch Davidian compound. Dr. Perry was called to help these traumatized children after they had been released from the compound. He learned the following from this case:

    Ø  Traumatized children need predictability, routine, a sense of control and stable relationships with supportive people.

    Ø  Prolonged fear can cause chronic or near-permanent changes in the brain.

    Ø  To calm a frightened child, you must first calm yourself.

    Ø  If safe, familiar, and capable caregivers were available to children, they tended to recover more easily, often showing no enduring negative effects of the traumatic event.

    Ø  “Trauma-buffering” effect of relationships is mediated by the brain.

    Ø  Recognizing the power of relationships and relational cues is essential to effective therapeutic work.

    Ø  To develop a self one must exercise choice and learn from the consequences of those choices; if the only thing you were taught is to comply, you have little way of knowing what you like and want.

    Ø  As therapists, we want to offer structure, but not rigidity; nurturance, but not forced affection.

    Ø  Research on the most effective treatments to help child victims might be accurately summed up in this way: what works best is anything that increases the quality and number of relationships in a child’s life.

    Skin Hunger -

    Dr. Perry was assigned to help a four-year-old patient who weighed only twenty-six pounds and was diagnosed with infantile anorexia. The following was gathered from this case:

    Ø  Since much of the brain develops early in life, the way we are parented has a dramatic influence on brain development. And so, since we tend to care for our children the way we were cared for ourselves during our own childhoods, a good “brain” history of a child begins with a history of the caregiver’s childhood and early experience.

    Ø  An infant’s early attachment to a small number of consistent caregivers is critical to emotional health and even to physical development.

    Ø  Attachment is a memory template for human-to-human bonds. This template serves as your primary “world view” on human relationships. It is profoundly influenced by whether you experience kind, attuned parenting or whether you receive inconsistent, frequently disrupted, abusive, or neglectful “care.”

    Ø  It is the template memory of the primary attachment that will allow a baby to have healthy intimate relationships as an adult.

    Ø  Without love, children literally don’t grow.

    The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog –

    Dr. Perry treated six-year-old Justin who was raised by his grandmother until she died when he was eleven months old. His grandmother’s live-in boyfriend became Justin’s caretaker after her death and was completely overwhelmed. He was a dog breeder and used his knowledge of dogs as a template for caretaking the baby. He treated Justin just as he did his dogs, keeping him in in a cage for most of the day and providing little nurturance and or care. The following was gathered from this case:

    Ø  The brain is a historical organ, a reflection of our personal histories. Our genetic gifts will only manifest themselves if we get the proper types of developmental experience, appropriately timed. Early in life these experiences are controlled primarily by the adults around us.

    Ø  Neglect does severe damage to the brain.

    Ø  Orphans who were left to languish in institutional settings without receiving enough affection and individual attention do indeed have visibly smaller head sizes and tinier brains.

    Ø  Patterned, repetitive experience in a safe environment can have an enormous impact on the brain.

    Ø  The earlier trauma starts, the more difficult it is to treat and the greater the damage is likely to be.

    Ø  Because trauma- including that caused by neglect, whether deliberate or inadvertent, causes an overload of the stress response systems, which is marked by a loss of control, treatment for traumatized children must start by creating an atmosphere of safety.

    Healing Communities –

    Dr. Perry states the following:

    Ø  Trauma tends to drive other mental health problems like many teen behavior problems and an enormous percentage of addictions.

    Ø  Trauma and our responses to it cannot be understood outside of the context of human relationships.

    Ø  The most traumatic aspects of all disasters involve the shattering of human connections. And this is especially true for children.

    Ø  Being harmed by the people who are supposed to love you, being abandoned by them, being robbed of the one-on-one relationships that allow you to feel safe and valued and to become humane – these are profoundly destructive experiences.

    Ø  Recovery from trauma is all about relationships – rebuilding trust, regaining confidence, returning to a sense of security and reconnecting to love.

    Ø  At heart, it is the relationship to the therapist, not primarily his or her methods or words of wisdom, that allows therapy to work.

    Ø  What helps traumatized children is consistent, patient, repetitive loving care.

    Ø  40 percent of children will experience at least one potentially traumatic event before they become adults.

    Ø  The truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.

    Ø  We need to form healthy relationships and connect with others; we need to hug our children.

    Ø  Although we need to set limits, if we want our children to behave well, we have to treat them well.

    Ø  Troubled children are in some kind of pain – and pain makes people irritable, anxious, and aggressive. Only patient, consistent care works; there are no short-term miracle cures. 

    Courtesy of Nicolette Macdonald, Sonoma State University Graduate School of Counseling, Spring 2017.
    Posted 4/18/2017