It begins like this:
In a grim case making its way through the courts in Wellington, jurors were warned that some of the eight children removed from their parents’ care for suspected cruelty and abuse would have to take frequent breaks when giving their evidence. A police officer gave evidence of a filthy, cluttered house and of rescuing an infant from a flea-infested cot. Because of cognitive impairment, some of the children could concentrate for only 15 minutes at a time.
This case aside, a growing body of research has established that cognitive problems are part of the bitter harvest of child maltreatment. Abuse, chaos, fear and neglect experienced for years in early childhood shape the very architecture of the brain, playing out in cognitive problems, anxiety, behaviour disorders and later addiction and mental illnesses. But if child abuse inflicts damage that is so fundamental and structural, is there really much hope it can be repaired?
“The short answer is yes,” says visiting child trauma expert Dr Bruce Perry, senior fellow of the Houston-based Child Trauma Academy, and adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Chicago’s Northwestern University. But using the right therapy at the right time is crucial, and difficult to gauge. What is becoming evident, though, is that some unexpected therapies – including movement, massage and yoga breathing – can be used to repair the most primal parts of the brain and help wounded children heal.
And the lessons extend beyond those who have been maltreated. It is “the rare child who escapes childhood trauma entirely”, observes Perry, co-author of influential books, including The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. Although Perry has treated youngsters who have suffered extreme events – children who have survived genocide, witnessed their own parents’ murders or been raised in cupboards and cages – he notes that by conservative estimates, about 40% of children in his own country will have at least one potentially traumatising experience by age 18. This includes the death of a parent or sibling, the experience. of a serious accident, involvement in a natural disaster, domestic violence and ongoing physical or sexual abuse. Not all children will be severely altered by these experiences, he notes, but roughly a third of children who are abused will have some clear psychological problems as a result.
Elsewhere in the new issue, one of the country’s best interviewers, Diana Wichtel, interviews another of New Zealand’s best interviewers, Kim Hill. When it comes to interviewing, Wichtel says, there are no rules. Plus new photographic portraits from David White.
John Daniell looks at the fascinating novelistic output of French author Caryl Férey. Is he sensationally misrepresenting Maori to an international audience, committing a heinous crime or just taking artistic licence?
During his years as Britain’s poet laureate, Andrew Motion was often mocked by the press, but now his career has been re-energised and the unlikely source of inspiration is Treasure Island, writes Iain Sharp.
In books, Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield with Matt and Debbie Cowens and John Banville.
Other arts goodies include Art Sound Full at Dunedin Public Art Gallery; Music Dirty Projectors, the Eversons, Nightchoir; The Pride, at Silo Theatre, and Dance Language of Living at the Aotea Centre.
Plus: tips for going gluten-free, the myths about schizophrenia, and more columns and telly tips than you can shake a stick at.