Following the fall of the Ceauþescu regime in Romania, the world became aware of the dreadful plight of children who had been raised in profound deprivation in institutions. In response, many American and European families adopted these children. When these children left their institutions, most were severely malnourished and severely physically and psychologically delayed.
Now a new study published in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development finds that despite having spent at least seven-and-a-half years in their adoptive homes and having had six years of schooling, the early experiences of profound institutional deprivation continue to exert marked adverse effects on the children's IQ even at age 11.
The researchers, from King's College and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, New York University and the University of Rochester Medical Center, have followed these children since adoption. Earlier studies found the children showed a remarkable degree of developmental catch-up by age 4 or 6, although a minority of children had persisting deficits. This study was designed to show if this "catch-up" could be maintained at age 11.
The researchers identified four particularly striking findings:
While the overall results show a pattern that involves both continuity and change – one common to all forms of development – the details present substantial challenges to many theoretical assumptions, notes lead researcher Dr. Celia Beckett, of King's College in London. These include the idea that:
"Our findings in this study are encouraging," Dr. Becket said, "since they show that the children who were most impaired at age 6 have continued to progress intellectually. We are currently studying the children at age 15 and it will be interesting to see whether this pattern continues."
Although this study doesn't directly translate to other groups of children because of the degree of deprivation encountered by the Romanian children, Dr. Beckett notes that it suggests that even in the most severe cases of deprivation there are grounds for optimism that children will experience some continuing progress.
Reference: Child Development, Vol. 77, Issue 3. Do the effects of early severe deprivation on cognition persist into early adolescence? Findings from the English and Romanian Adoptees study By Beckett C, Maughan B, Rutter M, Castle J, Colvert E, Groothues C, Kreppner J, Stevens S (King's College, London), O'Connor TG (University of Rochester Medical Center), and Sonuga-Barke EJS (King's College, University of Southampton and New York University). Copyright 2006 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.
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