Today, our article will branch out a little. We will be discussing The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog chapter summaries. If you haven’t read this book, then you might want to move on because these summaries are packed full with spoilers.
This book was written by a child psychologist and each chapter is a story of one of his patients. In chapter 6, the chapter from which the book is named, it’s more than one patient.
Drawing from his experience with his earliest patients, he has written this book showing how he was able to develop the best treatment for the patients he encountered subsequently.
The book is an easy read written in an engaging and easy-to-understand way. Nevertheless, it covers some topics that are really difficult to talk about such as molestation, neglect, and abuse. Get ready, this book might leave you in tears.
Spoiler Alert: In the coming sections, we are going to be giving a chapter by chapter summary of the book: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.
But first, an overview of the book.
Table of Contents
The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog — Synopsis
Child psychiatrist, Dr. Perry gives fascinating accounts of his work with traumatized and emotionally stunted children. He attempts to educate his readers about how stress and violence experienced by children early in life can affect the development of the brain.
Perry explains using simple but vivid illustrations of the responses of various children to stress as well as the mechanisms going on the brain using facts and images to further buttress his point.
In each of the stories, readers will find their hearts gripped with compassion, understanding, and ultimately, hope.
The stories are vividly painted, depicting humane pictures of his child patients who had, at one time or another, suffered neglect, violence, abuse, or sexual assault. Perry invites his reader to join him on his journey to understand better how a child’s developing brain works.
From his encounters with his patients, he learns that if recovery is to be had, then one must counteract that feeling of powerlessness and loss of control that a child feels during their traumatic experience.
In this book, the reader learns that it is possible to remodel the brain of a traumatized child using patterned and repetitive experiences carried out in a safe space.
Even more importantly, Dr. Perry emphasizes the importance of creating lasting, meaningful connections to others as, oftentimes, such trauma also comes with the destruction of human relationships.
Lasting, positive relations are critical and even irreplaceable in the healing process of traumatized children. Therapy and medication alone are not enough to do the whole job.
Dr. Perry concludes by saying that “relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.”
Check out the review of this book by Brain Food Books where it features as the book of the week. It does not contain any spoilers so if you don’t want spoilers, we advise you stop reading after this video and go get your copy of the book.
Chapter 1 — Tina’s World
We meet Dr. Perry’s first child client, Tina in chapter one. While Dr. Perry had had adult clients and had also been exposed to children while training to be a psychologist, Tina was his very first child client.
The setting for this chapter is in the 1980s. At this time, psychologists and counselors were of the belief that children are resilient and as such could not properly conceptualize how trauma in early childhood could go on to affect brain function later in life.
Dr. Perry reinforces this idea, in fact, claiming to be one of the front-runners in its development. He also propagated the idea that PTSD could happen to anyone at all who had experienced any form of trauma and not war veterans alone.
When Tina first came into Dr. Perry’s office, she was about 6 or 7 years old. Her school was worried about certain behaviors they had noticed in the child including speech difficulties, inattention, and compulsive behavior. Their highest concern, though, was the sexualized behavior she put up at school.
You see, Tina was born into poverty to a single mother. In order to be able to fend for her family, Tina’s mom had to keep her and her brother in the care of her neighbor while she went out to work.
Oftentimes, this neighbor who was supposed to babysit Tina and her brother would go out to run some errands, leaving the two children in the care of her teenaged son. After two years of this arrangement, the teenaged son was caught in the act raping Tina. What’s worse is that this didn’t happen once, it happened maybe once or twice a week.
When Tina’s mum found out, she took her kids away from the babysitter’s care. However, the damage had already been done. The teenaged son was charged, however, he wasn’t incarcerated and was, instead, counseled. Tina, sadly, had to suffer the consequences of her molestation alone.
When Tina’s case was brought in, Dr. Perry’s mentor had first suggested that it was ADD due to the symptoms presented, notably inattention and impulsivity. However, Dr. Perry didn’t agree. His understanding of neuroscience led him to believe that Tina was displaying coping behavior rather than ADD.
According to him, a similar research had been conducted on rats proving that when faced with trauma at infancy, behavior and can change notably in adulthood especially when faced with a stressful experience.
By this, Dr. Perry was able to confirm that Tina didn’t plan these behaviors. Instead, there were coping behaviors she had formed and learned as well as neurological changes that had occurred due to her experienced with repeated trauma at such an early age.
Dr. Perry was able to work with his child client, helping her develop more appropriate social behavior and impulse control using play, games, coloring, etc.
A few months after working with Tina once a week, Tina showed marked improvement in her behavior at school. And more than three years later, Tina seemed perfectly okay. The improvement was indeed dramatic and she seemed to be functioning normally in class. This felt like a huge success for Dr. Perry until he received some news a short while later.
Apparently, Tina was caught performing fellatio on another classmate in school. Dr. Perry had to come to the realization that his work with Tina had failed.
He discovered that he had helped Tina learn how to control her impulses when needed. However, he had not been able to rewire the pathways that had formed in her brain already. According to him, her experience around boys and men had rewired her brain and transformed her innermost thoughts in a truly profound way.
Chapter Two — It’s For Your Own Good
This chapter is a discussion of Dr. Perry’s differentiation of the concepts of tolerance and sensitization. Primarily, he draws the dichotomy between trauma and stress.
He uses the story of Sandy to explain why it is important to experience stress again and again as it builds tolerance as well as the ability to handle higher levels of stress as well as traumatic experiences with a higher level of resilience.
Dr. Perry makes an excellent example to illustrate this point with this analogy.
He talks about how two different people might react to the death of their mother.
On the one hand, we have a person has encountered stressful experiences at different points in their life leading up to the point where they lose their mother. This person comes out of their trauma okay with the firm understanding they they will be just fine.
On the other hand, there’s the other person who has had only very few stresses in life. This one comes out out of his depths not knowing what could happen next.
A forty-year-old family man will handle the death of his mother much easier (speaking generally now) than a 5-year old born to a single parent would. It’s the same experience. However, their coping experiences will differ greatly.
Now to Sandy.
Sandy was three years old when she first met Dr. Perry. She had witnessed the rape and murder of her mum by someone who was known to her as her mother’s acquaintance.
After the man killed her mother, he slit Sandy’s throat twice, and believing her to be dead, said to her “it’s for your own good, dude.” However, Sandy was not dead, she only passed out.
When she woke up later, she went to her mother for some succor. Her mother, though, was “asleep.”
She then went to the fridge to get some milk to drink but she gagged on it as the milk ran through the slits the man had made on her neck. She made a move to give her mother some milk but her mother, apparently, “didn’t want any.”
So, Sandy remained home alone, drenched in her own blood, and sitting with her mum who had been hog-tied and murdered. It was not until about 11 hours after the accident that a family friend discovered them. She had come to check on them after she had tried and failed to reach them on phone.
The friend took Sandy to the hospital and Sandy was able to identify her mother’s murderer. She was then put in foster care as well as a witness protection program as the killer had made death threats to her.
It was when her lawyer wanted to prepare her to testify in court that he took her to Dr. Perry to help prepare her.
Dr. Perry worked with Sandy until he could perceive that Sandy no longer saw him as a threat. Once he picked up on that, he then proceeded to ask her about her neck scars. She was then able to relay the trauma to him.
Afterward, Dr. Perry asked for the postponement of the trial as Sandy had still not received the proper counseling she should have received immediately after the trauma, and this was already 10 months after.
Working with her, Dr. Perry was able to get Tina to act out her self-directed reenactment of what happened the day her mother was murdered. By doing this, she was able to gain some control of the situation, at least, in her memory.
When the situation had happened, Sandy was too little to really do anything about the situation. So, her midbrain triggered a dissociative behavior which is associated with the fetal rocking position. Her feeling of helplessness in that trauma had to be rewired if she was going to move past it.
Sandy reenacted this trauma a number of times, having Dr. Perry play the role of her dead mother. She would bring him play food and try to get him to eat and do other comforting things she probably did while attempting to help her dead mum.
She did this for many months and then gradually started switching things up a bit. From telling Dr. Perry to lie down hog-tied, she would tell him to lie down flat, and then she’d tell him to lie flat, then tell him to sit on a rocking chair. Later, rather than just sit on a rocking chair, Sandy would ask him to read her a book.
Her brain was, in this manner, creating a form of tolerance to the memory of her trauma. So, rather than the memory causing her to revulse to the idea of knives, milk, doorbell ringing, she could respond to these with suspicion instead of aggression or dissociation.
This chapter mostly highlighted how children can be mislabeled as having ADD or ODD (Oppositional Defiance) when indeed they are simply dealing with PTSD that they’ve been unable to move past from.
So, when they are being taught in school, rather than focus on the lesson and the teacher, they rather look inward, either trying to avoid the situation as a result of perceived threats, or they might be in a sphere of arousal being overtly vigilant of people’s body language and facial expression, perceiving them to be threats.
The chapter also stresses the importance of parents allowing their kids handle little stresses consistently but in a safe environment so that they can build the tolerance they need to handle higher levels of stress later in life.
Chapter 3 — Stairway to Heaven
The Branch Davidian cult had just had a fallout in the 1990s in Waco, Texas. Ultimately, most of the cult members were killed during the conflict. However, they were able to rescue about 20 children which they placed in a group home rather than foster care because of the difficulty in finding foster homes for all 20 children.
A few days later, Dr. Perry was called to assist the group home with the kids as they were displaying somewhat bizarre behaviors. Apparently, these kids were faced with culture shock as they had been brought up in a completely different environment from the normal world.
In this world in which they were brought up, they lived in constant fear, and David Koresh was their god. From infancy, they were brought up to believe that anyone not in the cult was anti-god and would kill them.
Hence, having to leave this life, the only life they knew, to a new place with all the strangers they had been warned about was taking its toll on them. To make matters worse, while their parents handed them over to the authorities, they kept reminding them that the rest of the people left in the compound were going to be killed by the very people they (the children) were being handed over to.
When the kids first arrived at the group home, a barrage of psychologists, counselors, and law enforcement agents would come in randomly, pull the kids aside and then interrogate or counsel them as the case may be and just leave. This only made things worse as the kids were more confused and traumatized.
When Dr. Perry eventually arrived, he set some ground rules first for the people working with the children, beginning with drawing up a schedule to create some form of consistency for the kids.
At the time, this wasn’t a widely spread idea. However, Dr. Perry believed that consistency was very important for kids who were dealing with a trauma. He found it fortuitous that the kids were placed together during the healing phase and not separately as this was going to go a long way helping them heal faster.
While the kids were receiving care at the group home, the Ranch Apocalypse (as it was dubbed by David Koresh) was still going on. Friends and families were still fighting at the compound.
Social workers were trying to get information about what was going on on the ranch so they could extract more children, if possible, and get them to the group home. The kids, though, seemed to believe that their parents and the rest of their family were already dead.
When Perry had been able to establish some routine and consistency in the kids’ lives, he and his team then proceeded to have unscheduled counseling sessions throughout the day, if the kids so chose.
Most of the time, the kids would gravitate towards one adult or the other either to talk or to play a game. The adult would offer the needed support or the appropriate response as required by the child at the time.
Therapy sessions were never scheduled, Perry and his team simply created opportunities to build therapeutic relationships with the children.
At the end of each day, the team would then gather together to discuss what they had been able to learn from the kids and get on the same page on the way forward for each child as they prepared them for the outside world.
From what Dr. Perry could see, the kids really needed help. Being raised in a cult, they grew up not being able to make their own choices. It was so bad that telling them to pick between peanut butter and jelly could either confuse them or cause them to get angry.
The kids were still adamantly adherent to David Koresh’s rules. They remained in gender-segregated groups and ate at different tables while following the lead of the oldest boy or the oldest girl. The oldest girl being second in command to the oldest boy.
When they played outside (which they did at times), they would run and hide whenever they saw a helicopter flying overhead.
When Peery first arrived at the scene, he tried to interview each of the children one-on-one as soon as he could in order to better understand where they were coming from. It was there he learned about their upbringing. He also learned from the children themselves that they believed that the “Ranch Apocalypse” was going to end in the fiery death of everyone there.
While he spent hours talking with the kids, Perry also spent hours talking with the authorities, trying to convince them about what the kids had told him about the compound and how the standoff would end in death.
The authorities, however, paid him no mind.
In the end, they (the authorities) moved hard against those in the compound. It ended in a shoot-out with gas and grenades, and the whole compound went up in flames. By the end of the conflict, nearly all the cult members including the children left in the compound were dead.
At this point, it had been two weeks since the kids had started to work with the counselors and there was some improvement. Dr. Perry was quite confused about how to break the news to the kids knowing full well that they were bound to find out somehow.
They had relatives outside of the compound and soon, they would be leaving to their foster families. He was also bothered about breaking the tenuous trust that had begun to be formed between him and the kids.
After much thinking, he decided the best route to go was to break the news calmly to the kids as a group with all the counselors on hand to support.
It wasn’t an easy task and reactions were a mixed bag. Some simply refused to believe the news, others made statements like “I told you so,” or “I knew this would happen.”
A couple of months later, the group home was able to find foster homes for the children. Meanwhile, Dr. Perry, as well as his team, had been able to learn some very valuable lessons from working with the children from Waco.
Since Perry worked with his first child patient, Tina, he had continued to wonder why some children were able to overcome their trauma with little to no emotional scars while others seemed unable to move past it or seemed to constantly bear the weight of the trauma.
From his work with such children, observing their treatment just after the trauma to their growth over time into adulthood, Perry was convinced that relationships were a key determinant to how the children turned out.
If kids were placed into stable, loving homes where there were support and consistency, they developed deep, supportive relationships and led normal adult lives. If, on the other hand, they weren’t so lucky in their placements, they were less likely to lead normal adult lives.
Chapter 4 — Skin Hunger
Laura was a 4-year old girl weighing just 26 pounds. Since she was 8 weeks old, she had been struggling and failing to thrive. The doctors had diagnosed her with failure to thrive and after many different diets and a few surgeries, Laura was still not growing or gaining weight. Virginia (Laura’s mother) finally decided that it was time to see Dr. Perry.
Perry began by talking with Virginia first. He discovered that she had a pretty tumultuous upbringing as a child. She was passed around from one foster home to another because the belief at the time was that it was best for an infant not to develop any strong connection to any one family for fear of what might happen when the child had to be taken away to a different family.
So, Virginia kept moving from family to family until she finally got settled in a “permanent” home at the age of 5. The family was a good, loving one, that even tried to adopt her. The state, however, wouldn’t allow it.
So, when Virginia turned 18, she was forced to leave the home and the state demanded that the family cut off all ties with her if they wanted to be able to foster other children. This was how Virginia lost the only family she ever knew.
Soon after that, Virginia became pregnant. She decided to do what was right, being raised by a good family and all. So, she sought prenatal care and did all the right things in order to care for the child.
When Laura was born, Virginia understood that she would have to be fed, changed, clothed, and protected. However, since Virginia didn’t exactly have a normal upbringing, she hadn’t been able to develop the maternal instinct needed to mother a child.
So, she never held Laura close to her, choosing to feed her with a bottle in a baby seat instead. She didn’t sing to Laura either or play with her. The instincts just weren’t there.
She knew what to do congnitively, that is, in her mind, but in her heart, she really felt nothing. She was, therefore, unable to provide Laura with the emotional and physical cues she needed as a child as a result of her own childhood. In the absence of all of these, Laura wasn’t able to gain weight and stopped thriving.
Virginia brought her daughter to the doctor at 8 weeks and in over four years of her interaction with the hospital, no one gave her parenting advice. It was hard to see Virginia as a neglectful parent considering that she was concerned enough to bring in her child at 8 weeks when she wasn’t growing. So, while the doctors were prescribing diets and surgeries, all Laura needed was to be held.
After meeting with Virginia and Laura, Dr. Perry reached out to one of his former clients, Mama P. She was a foster mom and had brought her then 7-year old child to work with Dr. Perry. Then she would treat the 7-year old like a baby, holding him constantly, rocking him like he was a baby and whatnot.
Perry was a bit concerned at first but came to understand that Mama P did that because the child had missed out on those close forms of connections as a baby and, therefore, needed that kind of physical love and attention at that point in his life.
Dr. Perry decided that this was what Virginia and Laura needed then. Ordinarily, Mama P would not have been able to work with Laura and Virginia together. However, fortunately, Mama P, Laura, and Virginia had come to see Dr. Perry via a special program. As a result of that, both Laura and Virginia were able to stay with Mama P.
Laura and Virginia lived with Mama P for about a year. In the first month, still on the same diet as she was on before moving in with Mama P, Laura put on 10 pounds. Virginia got some mothering herself, but most importantly, she was able to learn how to give Laura the needed love and physical affection she needed.
Laura and Virginia moved out after a year but remained in close contact with Mama P. Laura grew up strong, bright and intelligent, but emotionally, she was still a bit distant. She had a strong moral compass though.
Later, Virginia had her second child which she was prepared to take care of properly from the start.
In this chapter, Perry emphasized the importance of having physical contact with kids right from the start in order to allow for proper development. Kids can have everything they need to survive and still not survive if they aren’t shown love.
Even if they are later shown love, the lack of it from early on in infancy can create pathways in their brains that could change them permanently in some ways.
Chapter Five — The Coldest Heart
Here we meet Leon, a 16-year old boy convicted for the murder of two teenage girls. He was awaiting his sentencing when Dr. Perry was invited to meet with him and his family. The lawyers wanted to find out if Dr. Perry could determine that there was a psychological disorder that could explain Leon’s behavior, and, ultimately, avoid the death penalty.
Leon was an interesting case in that, even after conviction, he seemed to remain unremorseful. And despite the on-record court statements he had made, he still kept on lying to Dr. Perry, hoping to trick him into giving him what he (Leon) wanted.
After recounting the happenings of the night of the murder, Dr. Perry asked Leon what he would do differently if given another chance. Leon responds by saying that he would throw away the boots as that was what got him caught.
This caught Perry off-guard who was expecting to hear something more along the lines of controlling his temper, not hurting others, and whatnot.
Going to Leon’s home, Leon was raised by two wonderful parents and had an older brother. When he met with them to discuss Leon’s actions, the family felt guilty, embarrassed and sorry. Perry went ahead to discuss Leon’s upbringing.
The first child, Frank was born when the parents still lived in their home town. They were surrounded by a host of uncles, aunties, and family who were always ready to help out whenever it was needed. With this support, Maria (Leon’s mother) was able to take occasional breaks while learning to be a mother for the first time.
Perry noticed something during the interview though, Alan (Leon’s dad) seemed to be monopolizing the entire session. Questions that were directed at Maria, Alan would suddenly interject and answer the questions himself.
Perry suspected that Maria might be cognitively challenged and proceded to ask Maria if she liked school as a child. Alan responded telling him that Maria is “maybe a little slow in that way.” This was the more reason Alan believed that being around all those family members was important for his wife.
Just about three years after Frank was born and shortly before Leon’s birth, Alan lost his job in his hometown and had to move to the city to get a new job. There they lived in a run-down apartment and were neighbors to people living in poverty and substance abuse.
At this time, Maria was pregnant and had to be home alone for the most part of the day with only Frank has company. The support network she had started out with was gone and she had no new friends in this community.
She started to walk to the park or, sometimes, ride to the museum on the bus on her free days. She’d also stop at the grocery store sometimes. In all, she avoided being in her lonely apartment for long.
After Leon’s birth, Maria became overwhelmed. Leon would cry and cry and Maria would try to feed him but he would still cry the more. Confused about what more to do, Maria would put Leon in his crib and go off on her usual walk with Frank, leaving her baby crying, alone, and unattended to for hours.
After a while, Maria noticed that Leon wasn’t crying as much anymore, and so she believed that her solution had worked. Unfortunately, this neglect had caused some damage to Leon already. Leon was not able to get the physical and emotional affection he needed as a child to bond with his family and form healthy relationships later in life. From then on, things only went from bad to worse for Leon.
When he was two, he started exhibiting behavioral problems so much so that he had to go to a special preschool. In fact, all his schooling from then on was among peers who also hadn’t formed appropriate behaviors or weren’t able to make good choices. This only served to exacerbate Leon’s beahvioral challenges.
His family tried to strengthen the bond with him at this point but Leon had already lost the ability to feel love or disappointment in a normal way. He only saw others for wht they were able to give him.
Like a child with autism, Leon could not understand or interpret other people’s emotions normally. This caused him to have irregular relationships, being unable to comprehend why people felt happy or sad about different things.
For instance, when he saw his brother and parents crying at his trial he asked, “why are they crying?, I’m the one going to jail.” He was unable to grasp their feelings in relation to himself.
At the trial, Perry would testify that Leon had ADHD and ASPD. However, unlike normal mental illnesses, the diagnoses couldn’t account for Leon’s actions that night.
Perry testified about Leon’s neglect (albeit unintentionally) as a baby. This, he explained, had damaged Leon to the point he no longer had empathy, instead, he had a heightened sense of violence.
Apparently, Leon was even drunk at the time of the murder and Perry believed that, had Leon been sober, he would not have committed the murders. Nevertheless, Perry was still not completely convinced that Leon was no longer a threat to society.
Chapter 6 — The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog
The chapter from which the book is named. Here we meet Justin, the boy who was raised as a dog. After his mother left him, he spent the first two years of his life with his grandma. She was loving but disabled and when she died, her likely cognitively disabled boyfriend began raising Justin.
He really didn’t know how to raise a child. Admitting this to himself, he called on child protection to find Justin a better home where he’d be cared for. However, child protection didn’t see any reason to believe that Justin wasn’t properly cared for where he was. Besides they were overburdened as it were and as they always were. And so, Justin was left in the care of a well-meaning but totally ignorant person.
Justin’s guardian would put him in a dog crate for hours, hardly speak to him, and only let him out of the crate once in a while to relieve himself with the other dogs.
Perry met Justin for the first time when he was taken to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia. At the time, he was 6 years old and very wild. In fact, it was so bad, Justin had to be caged to his hospital crib with the aid of a plywood board. He wouldn’t eat and kept flinging his feces at the doctors and nurses who tried to help him.
On his first contact with Justin, Perry closed the curtain around Justin and approached him in the same way you’d approach an injured animal. He approached the boy slowly and did not make eye contact. He then slowly and carefully offered Justin a piece of muffin. Justin hesitated for a brief moment and then snatched the muffin from Perry’s hand and proceeded to devour it.
After that, Perry had them move Justin to a more private room and limited the number of doctors and nurses allowed to see the boy. He then established a predictable schedule which they had to follow with Justin. He hoped to develop a routine that Justin could feel less scared and anxious in.
From the results of tests and scans, the doctors were able to confirm that Justin had a severe mental disability, evidenced by his significantly reduced brain size. He was unable to walk or talk and the doctors had resigned themselves to the fact that Justin was unreachable. Perry, on the other hand, harbored some hope.
From Perry’s perspective, Justin’s reduced brain size was a result of it not being used. Justin had had only very little human interaction since his grandmother died. And since he had no one to talk to, his brain couldn’t make the normal connections and also could not develop properly.
Given some human interactions and physical therapy, Dr. Perry believed that he might be able to help Justin. When these interventions began in earnest, Justin began to show marked improvement in just two weeks. The pneumonia was gone and his temperament had also become much better so much so the authorities started considering bringing him into foster care.
They continued with Perry’s prescriptions and recommendations. All these added to Justin’s new, loving foster family, helped Justin to make what Perry called “the most rapid recovery from severe neglect that we had seen yet.”
Also in this chapter, Dr. Perry introduces a boy named Connor. This is a 14-year old boy raised in a middle-class family by loving parents. When he was still a baby, his parents had to go to work so they hired a nanny to watch the baby while they both went to the wok. The nanny was to watch Connor for 9 hours a day.
However, unknown to the couple, the nanny got another job shortly after she was hired to watch Connor. So, she would come to watch Connor in the morning but only for a few minutes before leaving for the other job.
At lunchtime, she would come back to the house, feed Connor, change him, and then leave again until late afternoon. She would then get to the house, change the baby again and wait for his parents to arrive.
Jane (Connor’s mother) began to worry when it seemed like Connor was hitting developmental milestones as expected. The doctor told her not to worry that babies developed at different rates. The doctor, confident that Jane was not neglecting her baby, never asked her if her baby cried or showed other signs that might be worrying. By the way, Connor never cried.
One day, Jane came home early from work one day as a result of ill health. At this point, Connor was 18 months. She met her baby in a dark, empty house, sitting in his crib in a dirty diaper. She then realized what had been going on. Her son had been severely neglected for the last 18 months. He had no one to interact with and no one to attend to him when he started crying (the reason he stopped crying).
Jane fired the nanny instantly and then quit her job to stay with her son. She was grateful that something worse had not happened to her son like an accident or something. She did not know, however, that something worse had indeed happened.
For the next 12 years, Jane came to realize that her son was developing abnormally. He grew up in social isolation from his peers and kept engaging in peculiar, repetitive behaviors like rocking or humming.
From experiences Perry had had with former patients, Perry was convinced that Connor might have to experience the affection he missed during the 18 months he was neglected in a systematic manner.
They began with a touch therapy. Connor was averse to touch as he hadn’t exactly received it as an infant. At first, Jane was hesitant as she had been advised by countless therapists prior to her visit with Perry not to do that.
However, in 6 months of doing as Perry advised, Connor began to improve. He could now tolerate being touched by his mother, and, once in a while, by his massage therapist
As he continued to show progress, they then made the move to enroll him in a music class with other teenagers who had also had to deal with neglect and abuse as children. With this, he was able to develop his sense of rhythm which he was unable to develop as a child as there was no one to sing him nursery rhymes, play games with him (like patty cake), or have someone rock him when he cried. Such experiences, as he had them, were only limited at best, that is, when his mother stayed home on the weekends.
When Connor began his music class, he began to have fewer episodes of outbursts at school and his interaction with his family also showed some improvement to the extent that, one day, out of the blue and unsolicited, he told his mother he loved her.
Soon after, Perry and Connor began to have parallel play sessions. However , when Connor would come in for counseling sessions, Connor wouldn’t talk to Perry. They’d just sit with Connor doing his homework and Perry working on his work.
After many weeks, Connor began having a conversation with Perry and in a few more weeks, it became a normal routine for Connor.
Perry allowed Connor lead in the sessions they had. In their conversations, Perry began to teach Connor about the human brain and explain the relationship between brain development and social interactions, appropriate and inappropriate.
Soon, Connor was able to make a friend, another teen who was socially awkward like him and also loved to collect Pokemon cards just like him. Connor has continued to show improvement, going on to become a computer programmer. Nevertheless, Connor is still socially awkward.
Comparing Connor with Leon, we see that both children suffered neglect. However, one grew up to be a computer programmer and the other a murderer. What was the difference?
Was it that Connor’s intervention was sooner? Did it have to do with intelligence, genetics, or natural circumstances?
Whatever the case, Connor’s recovery was proof that some survivors of childhood abuse or neglect can be rehabilitated to a reasonable degree, at least.
Chapter 7 — Satanic Panic
This chapter introduces us to a group of children who had been abused and traumatized by a satanic cult. The Vernon children were first removed from their original home as there were speculations that there was sexual assault going on. From there, they were moved to the Lapp family for foster care.
The Lapp family had a bizarre, outdated custom of holding children down against their will and forcing them to talk about their abuse. The Lapps and social worker overseeing the family worked together to hold the children down and force them to talk. If the kids were hesitant, they would run their knuckles along their ribcage in a bid to force them.
The kids were going through this really painful expeirence while talking about “what had happened to them.” Sadly, neither the Lapps nor the social worker in charge really understood how the mind works, espeically in situations such as that.
They asked the children leading questions such as “Did you witness satanic baby killings?” Now, at first, the kids would say no but with continued torture, they’d eventually succumb and claim to have seen that when, in fact, it wasn’t actually true.
Most times, they’d end up “ratting out” families who they claimed were involved with the satanic group. Then those children would be removed from those families and then placed either with the Lapps or with other foster families.
By the time Dr. Perry was called upon, more than 15 children had been removed from their families in Gilmer, Texas, and plaed in foster care.
With Perry’s understanding of the brain, the influence positive and negative relationships could have on the memory, as well as with the use of a heart rate monitor, Perry intereviewed all the children. He was able to find out who was truly involved with the satanic cult and those who were just being falsely accused. The latter were returned to their families while the former were placed in foster care.
During Dr. Perry’s interview with the kids, he noted some aversive behaviors that some of the kids would display around certain questions.
For instance, when Brian (one of the kids) had to talk about the holding, he cried and his heart rate shot up quite dramatically. He admitted that he had been tortured into saying that he was abused by his parents when, in fact, his parents didn’t abuse him.
When he was asked about witnessing baby killings, he said no quite calmly and there was no change in his heart rate. He further explained that he only made that up so that the family would stop rubbing his ribs torturously.
In the end, Brian and his younger brother were reunited with their families. Some other children were returned as well.
Interestingly, from Perry’s findings, none of the kids had actually witnessed any activity of the satanic cult. The satanic cult was probably a figment of the Lapps’ imagination which was then corroborated by the coerced statements of the first child.
Contrarily, while the Vernon kids won’t show any averse reaction when asked about the satanic killings, they would when asked about either the Lapps or their biological parents.
Dr. Perry was able to find out, from his interviews with them and monitoring their heart rates, that the children should not be returned to their biological family as he was almost sure sexual assault happened there on a regular. He recommended that the Vernon kids stay with their current foster family since they’d already been removed from the home of the Lapps.
Chapter 8 — The Raven
Amber was a normal, healthy high school student. However, one day, she just passed out suddenly on the floor of the bathroom at school. She was taken to the ER as she was unresponsive and the doctors proceeded to run multiple tests on her.
They couldn’t find anything on her. Not on the CAT scans, nor on the heart tests, blood tests, or toxicology tests. In essence, there was no diagnosable reason she was comatose.
She looked as though she had overdosed. However, the tests did not bring up any drug in her blood.
By some fortune, Perry was in the same hospital Amber was rushed into that day, consulting with another patient. The doctor called on him to help calm the mother down as she was understandably distraught with all the ambiguity around her daughter’s condition.
Dr Perry asked about Amber and found out that she had been contacted by her mother’s former boyfriend, Duane, the night before.
Duane and Jill (Amber’s mother) had lived together for many years when Amber was still very young. In that period, unbeknownst to Jill, Duane had molested and raped Amber countless times.
When Jill eventually found out, she kicked him out of her house and pressed charges. Eventually, the charges had to be dropped as Duane moved out of the state.
Being a struggling single mother and with Amber doing seemingly okay at school, Jill didn’t see the need to take her daughter to therapy. Many years later, Amber is lying unconscious in the ER and the doctors can’t seem to find out why.
Dr. Perry toyed with the idea in his mind that this might be a case of extreme dissociative response. Victims are known to often display a fight/flight response when faced with a high level of stress. However, in some other cases, they might also display dissociative behavior either by being quiet and shy, hiding, hugging and/or rocking, or in very extreme cases, entering into a comatose state.
Perry was wondering if Amber’s body had not produced an excess of endorphins and enkephalins which tend to cause a similar body response as heroin overdose when secreted in excess. Had Amber just OD-ed on her natural opioids?
When Perry first suggested this to the doctors, they dismissed his submission. However, when hours passed and they still couldn’t find out what was happening, they decided to give Amber a Naxolone shot.
Naxolone is a drug typically used for patients with a heroin overdose. When Amber was given this shot, she immediately revived. She had to remain in the hospital for a few days so the doctors could monitor her closely. Afterward, she was allowed to go home.
After the incident, Perry continued working with Amber in the months that followed. He helped her understand what had happened when her body shut down. He also learned from Amber about her dissociative states and was able to understand them better.
Amber explained that dissociation was how she protected herself as a 7-year old girl being molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Even while it happened, she would retreat into a magical world. In that world, she was a raven fighting off evil and injustice. This helped her gain some control over the horrible situation which she had no control over.
Even after the abuse had stopped, Amber continued to retreat into her magical world whenever she was faced with high-stress situations.
When she got into high school, she graduated to cutting in order to get herself to retreat on cue.
After listening to her, Perry taught Amber some self-hypnotism so she could retreat into her safe world without having to resort to cutting. He also taught her other social and coping skills which gave her the freedom to develop deeper relationships without necessarily having to push people away.
Using these skills, Amber graduated from college and went on to lead a normal, healthy life.
Chapter 9 — “Mum Is Lying. Mum is hurting Me. Please Call The Police.”
This chapter talks about a 6-year old boy called James. He grew up in a family of 5 children with some of the children being biological, some foster, and some adopted like James was. In hierarchy, James was the second child. Therapists had diagnosed him with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder).
RAD is common among children who have suffered a trauma at some point in their early years as children. James had violent tendencies and would often pull dangerous stunts such as jumping out of a second story balcony. He had also attempted jumping out of a moving car once and often tried to run away from home. The therapists he had worked with had not been able to find out what they could do to help James.
Things had gotten to the point where an advocacy group pressed charges, claiming that James was being abused by his adoptive parents. Child Protective Services (CPS), on the other hand, believed that James was simply too disruptive in his behavior that his parents needed a well-deserved break. The judge had called on Dr. Perry to intervene in the situation.
Perry then went to meet with James. At the time, James was receiving treatment after he had tried to OD on his medications in an attempt to kill himself. From reading James’ file, Perry observed that in school, James was quite normal and obedient. However, at home, he was totally different displaying violent and dangerous behaviors. To Perry, this wasn’t consistent with RAD.
Perry interviewed some of the doctors and nurses who treated James after the case of his overdose and other incidents. They all seemed skeptical of James’ mother, Merle. They reported that on the night of his overdose, she had called 911 and they recommended that she take him directly to the hospital. Rather than do that, Merle waited for nearly thirty minutes before driving him to a supermarket nearby.
She entered into the supermarket and went hysterical, and then the supermarket attendants called 911. When the EMS arrived, Merle appeared much calmer even sipping a soda but James’ life was still in much danger. This was just one of the many incongruencies observed with Merle and they were enough to raise a red flag for Perry.
Perry and another member of his team met with James about four times in all. He was a very friendly, personable kid and made deep connections with Dr. Perry and his team member. In fact, the connections were so deep, the other counselor wept when the sessions had to end as they seemed to have gotten the needed evidence to confirm the RAD diagnosis.
This, however, would be the tipping point for Dr. Perry as he began to reevaluate the RAD diagnosis. Usually, for kids with RAD, there is a difficulty in forming relationships. As a result, due to mirror neurons, counselors hardly like these children as they are typically burdensome. In fact, most counselors are only too relieved to have the therapy sessions end.
Going over this, he and his staff member, they remembered an odd comment made by one of the nurses during their interview with her. Apparently, when James revived from his overdose, he had said “My mom is lying. She is hurting me, please call the police.” Another odd report was when James had gained consciousness. The hospital staff had informed Merle that they were quite certain that James would pull through. Strangely, Merle replied by asking that James be removed from life support.
This was when all the pieces fell together. James didn’t have RAD. His mother, on the other hand, had Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome.
Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome is a condition where a mother would cause harm to her children privately so she can publicly display her affection towards that child. This would then cause people around her to shower her with love, support, sympathy, and esteem.
After James’ episode, he and his four siblings were removed from the home while Merle and her husband were charged with child abuse.
James was eventually moved to a better foster home where he got all the love and care he needed. The violent behaviors also disappeared completely.
It appears that his repeated running away was a cry for help and his dangerous behaviors such as OD-ing were forced on him by Merle. Fortunately, it would seem that his resistance to Merle and his constant running away was what saved his and his siblings’ lives.
Chapter 10 — The Kindness Of Children
Peter spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage in Russia. Because the orphanage was overcrowded, he only got to have a maximum of 15 minutes of adult interaction. Then there was the child-to-child interaction as well, at least as much as he could get from between crib bars.
When he was to be adopted, his adoptive parents who were from the United States understood the state of affairs with Peter in Russia before choosing to adopt him. They did as much research and reading as they could and even booked sessions with speech and occupational therapists to work with Peter the minute he was brought home.
The loving family did everything within their power to give Peter a normal life and he thrived. Soon he started to walk and learn the English language. He made so much progress in his first three years with his new family even though there were times things were so hard, the parents needed the patience of Job.
In his fourth year, though, things began to stagnate or maybe even take a turn for the worse. This was when the parents reached out for Perry. They had to travel 500 miles to see Perry but they didn’t mind.
Perry and his team had series of interviews with Peter including other tests and brain scans in the two days Peter was there with them. He was hoping that his team could pick out Peter’s areas of strengths and weaknesses as a result of his abnormal infancy and toddlerhood.
From the tests, they found out that parts of Peter’s brain had indeed grown and developed. Nonetheless, there were still parts of his brain that had stagnated and remained at the level of a 2-year old’s.
From this, Dr. Perry and his team were able to pinpoint the reason for Peter’s sudden stagnation over the past year.
Peter was going to school for the first time in America, one of the reasons he was behaving strangely at school. His peers could not understand his behavior which could sometimes be baby-like. His teachers, as well, were unsure of how to proceed with him.
Dr. Perry’s recommendation was to continue with therapy for Peter. Also, he tried to bring his parents on the same page, advertising them to meet their son at his developmental level rather than his chronological level per time. That means, depending on what part of his brain he was using, they could treat him like a 7-year old one minute and treat him like a 2-year old the next.
Dr. Perry’s most important suggestion, though, was to come to Peter’s present class and explain brain function to his classmates. While there, Dr. Perry also explained to Peter’s classmates how Peter had a different life before he came to the United States and how that had changed the way his brain works.
After this presentation, the children were less fearful and mistrusting of Peter and, instead, began to show some empathy. Where they shunned him before, they now reached out to play with him and work with him.
Perry maintained a long-term relationship with Peter’s family and learned that Peter developed normally especially due to peer interactions. By high school, Peter was no longer an outlier.
Chapter 11 — Healing Communities
Wrapping up the book, Dr. Perry reiterates everything he has learned from his clients and emphasizes the need for society to become more supportive in order to help members of the society going through traumas.
He explains that, as recently, as 150 years ago, families lived in communities of up to 20 to 150 persons. Most of them were family and everyone knew the other person and supported one another.
By the time we got o the 1950s, this had reduced to 10 people and now the average family is about 4 people with 25% of Americans living alone.
With the increasing lack of connection our generation is currently experiencing, as well as our increasing propensity to spend more time on the TV or with our phones, humans are beginning to interact less even when we are physically together.
The number and quality of relationships compared to how they were about 100 years ago has seriously fallen.
As a result, children are at a higher risk of developing bad and dangerous relationships. This is, in turn, lowering children’s ability to rebound after experiencing traumas.
Dr. Perry is calling for more supportive communities as well as training for parents to learn how to parent better.
He’s also calling for an end to what he terms an unresponsive public education. In his opinion, many of these public schools are removing recess and physical education time and making kids read and do math more. They are also assigning more and more homework. So, children are spending less time with their families.
Both at the elementary and at a developmental level, Perry opines that this is really risky for children and families.
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