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Talkers and Touchers

When Does Attachment Disorder Happen?

In an interview with Babble.com, Jane Aronson, the pediatrician known as the Orphan Doctor, talks about foreign adoption, something she strongly advocates. Aronson is pediatrician to movie star adopters including Angeline Jolie.

In the interview, Aronson points out that adoptions of older foreign children can be very successful when the child was raised by a family, but then lost his parents to AIDS, war or other misfortune. She gives a helpful analysis of adoption services in various countries.

Aronson certainly is highly experienced in overseas adoption, through her organization, Worldwide Orphans Foundation. She makes one strange and really inaccurate remark, however: She claims the science shows that attachment disorder is mostly the result of brain damage or brain chemistry imbalances in the womb.

She told the interviewer,

And attachment likely has more to do with brain damage that occurs during the pregnancy, due to malnourishment, exposure to toxins in the environment, infections during the pregnancy, exposure to alcohol and drugs and smoking. All of that conspires to cause damage to brain structures that are involved in the actual chemistry and physiology of attachment. So when people use this sort of artificial convention of saying, you know, "You gotta get 'em by three, or else they're ruined," I think that's also not taking into consideration that attachment likely has to do with brain chemistry during pregnancy.

While it's accepted that a hostile womb environment -- a mother who takes drugs, who doesn't want the baby, who's being abused -- can make the baby hyper-vigilant and hyper-reactive before he's born, neuroscientists like Bruce Perry who study disordered kids are convinced that not only abuse but also neglect and simple lack of attention after birth can create post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In the comments on a blog summary of the interview, most people think Aronson is full of it.

For the perspective of a neuroscientist who studies traumatized children, read this interview with Michael de Bellis of Duke University.

See also RAD Epidemic in Russian Adoptions?