Medicine calls this a “disorder”, a victim-blaming obfuscation invented to broaden their job description while preserving the inhumane status quo which maintains their lifestyle and which they help to perpetuate via obstetrical isolation and abuse. The real disorder is needlessly medicalized and pathologized birth.
A plant left in the dark will produce a leaf that is underdeveloped small, weak compared to a fully nurtured plant. The same is true of child’s developing brain and body.
Soil, sun, wind and rain are the plant’s environment. Children are planted in adults and the adult culture. When a plant wilts we water the soil and by doing so provide the best environment for that plant to grown. When a child’s development stumbles perhaps we might consider the same prescription, nurture the soil these children are planted in – focus our attention and resources on parents and the people who care for children. Childhood abuse and neglect are caused by poor soil conditions not the seedling.
I prefer the term sensory deprivation to neglect or abuse. Abuse and neglect produce images of a wounded psyche, transient feelings that are easily dismissed. Sensory deprivation is more concrete – starvation, malnutrition, torture. Are parents and the adult culture meeting nature’s long term expectations at each age and stage of a child’s development or not? That is the basic question. To answer this question we must turn to the senses and this takes us back to the research of James W. Prescott, PhD.
Dating back to the 1960’s Jim, more than any one I know has studied how sensory deprivation impacts the developing brain very early in life. It was Harry Harlow who separated infant monkeys from their mothers at birth. He raised them in colony rooms where they could see, smell and hear other monkeys, but not touch or be touched by them. Touch and movement were the two critical forms of stimulation being denied these infants at the most critical period of brain growth and development.
Soon it became apparent that Harrow’s mother-deprived infants were profoundly abnormal. Development was slowed. Social, emotional and sexual development was retarded. The monkeys were depressed, inattentive, rocked in stereotypical patters, engaged in self-mutilation. There was no play. When touched at ten months of age they acted as though touch was unpleasant, their bodies stiffened, baring their teeth. As juveniles touch produced outbursts of violent aggression. Mating and child rearing were impossible. The absence of normal touch and in particular movement produced permanent alterations in the brain of these mother deprived monkeys….
More damage occurs with the sensory deprivation of pleasure than the actual experiencing of physical, painful trauma. This one sentence holds the key to early childhood social-emotional-sexual development and everything that is built on this early foundation.
Joseph Chilton Pearce, James w. Prescott and I authored an essay – Pleasure Bonds. In it we describe the essential role of pleasure in forming and securing lasting binds as children and in adults.
“Pain warns us of danger-avoiding what is harmful. Pleasure attracts us to what is nurturing – seeking what is good. The developing brain must experience pleasure and happiness if the integration of sensations involved in learning and social adaptation is to take place. A child denied pleasure and happiness develops a brain that is neuro-dissociative, one that fragments rather than integrates experience.
“This integrative nature of pleasure and the dissociative effect of pain were demonstrated years ago when newborn monkeys were separated from their mothers and raised in isolation. The pain and pleasure systems of these mother deprived monkeys were impaired causing maturing juveniles and adults to compensate for their early sensory loss with super-sensory stimulation, i.e., chronic touch, stereotypical rocking, hyperactivity, attention deficits, touch aversion (hyper-reactivity) and self-mutilation (impaired pain perception), all behaviors with strong parallels in many of today’s children and adults.”
Which is richer in terms of sensory experience: Being held close to mother’s breast or sucking artificial formula from a plastic bottle? Being strapped in a plastic stroller or carried on dad’s shoulders? Digging a hole to China in the back yard or watching the Disney Channel? Legos or building a clubhouse for scrap wood? Catching frogs in the ditch down the street or The World of War Craft? Neighborhood pick-up games or adult organized Little League? Day by day, sensation by sensation the full spectrum experiences offered by a natural three-dimensional world have been replaced by sensory deprived counterfeits….