the things we know are at the core of promoting healthy
development,” he says.
Meanwhile, he’s also looking for other physiological
systems affected by early adverse experience — particularly
those that are malleable. “If we can impact those systems,
especially without pharmacology, we have great tools we can
leverage,” he says.
For instance, kids with a history of neglect are known
to have trouble with executive functioning. One way that
presents itself is that the kids don’t show much brain
response to corrective feedback; instead, they often make the
same mistakes over and over. Targeted interventions may help
those children learn to tune in to the important cues they’re
missing, Fisher says. Though more research is needed, he
adds, computer-based brain-training games and other novel
interventions might prove to be useful complements to more
Despite progress, child neglect remains underfunded and
understudied, says Wolfe. Politically, it’s a prickly subject.
“Neglect is not a disease. It’s entwined with the delivery
of proper social and medical services. It’s embedded in
socioeconomic disadvantage,” he says.
Politics aside, science is making strides toward erasing the
stamp that early neglect leaves on a child. New understanding
of the ways that neglect changes a person’s physiology is helping
to push the field forward, Wolfe says.
That progress is sorely needed, but the most important
first step is to remove neglected children to a safe, loving
environment, he adds. “The brain will often recover, if it’s
allowed to.” n
Kirsten Weir is a journalist in Minneapolis.
Fisher, P. A. (2013). Early adverse care, stress
neurobiology, and prevention science: Lessons
learned. Prevention Science, 14( 3), 247–256.
H. (2014). Romania’s abandoned children:
Deprivation, brain development, and the
struggle for recovery. Cambridge, MA, and
London, England: Harvard University Press.
Marshall, P. J., Smyke, A. T., and Guthrie, D.
(2007). Cognitive recovery in socially deprived
young children: the Bucharest Early Intervention
Project. Science, 318(5858), 1937–2940.
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