The Impact of Neglect
Neglect, if not an overt kind of abuse, is a close cousin, it’s a passive form of abuse. Neglect is the lack of stimulation that is required to meet the child’s physical, social and intellectual needs. As pointed out in other essays, the child builds a neural scaffold in response to the impact stimulus. It is how that 'stimulus' effects the child's homeostatic status. For example, when a stimulus enters the brain, through the receptor (say the eye) and is then via the thalamus distributed across the brain it will be assessed according to how that event impacts on their safety and comfort.
The human infant is born with the least instinctive neurological scaffold, and so the vast majority of neural pathways are constructed to suit the environment that the child finds itself.
The thing is the development of any pathway relies on the presence of a stimulus. That is, no stimulus no pathway. Therefore, we can consider neglect as being the lack of stimulation that is required to meet the child’s physical, social and intellectual needs.
A dramatic example of just how important the stimulus is when a child is born with cataracts on their eyes it is in a sense blind to any visual stimulus. If the cataracts are not removed before about eight months, the child will never be able to see properly despite having the potential for full development of that property. They need the stimulus at that time of their life to develop that neurological ability.
The thing is the brain has periods where development is expected. These are genetic windows for the production of competencies like sight, attachment, movement, etc. If there is no stimulus to activate the neurons to create the pathways not only will the opportunity be lost but the very neurons that are present to form the paths will be ‘pruned,' that is removed from the neurological material to make the brain more efficient. There is no way yet known to replace them.
Forms of neglect are:
- Physical – failure to provide for physical needs such as food.
- Medical – not providing medical care when the child is sick or needs dental work.
- Emotional – lack of nurture, encouragement, love and support.
- Educational – lack of providing educational resources and ensuring regular participation in schooling.
- Abandonment – leaving the child alone for long periods of time without any support.
The most infamous example of the impact of neglect has on the development of the brain, and subsequent behaviours comes from the children in Romanian orphanages who were found after the fall of the Communist government in 1989. These children had reduced volume in their hippocampus, frontal lobes and cerebellums. The illustration below is perhaps the most famous picture of the real impact of neglect. It represents a cross section of the brain of a Romanian orphan, on the right and that of a 'normal' child of the same age.
When you are working with students who have suffered from such neglect, and there are too many for us not to believe they are in every school, particularly in schools that serve low socioeconomic areas you will be required to have the patience with these kids who ‘just don't get it.' They don't straight away but persevere with kindness and one day they just might ‘get it' and that will be because you understood and cared.