A couple of years ago I worked at a non-public school (not a private school!) in California for a brief time in between international school gigs. These are schools for children with a diagnosed disability whose needs can no longer be met in the public school system. I wanted this job because I too was a student of a non-public school in grades 6-8 after getting expelled from my local public school, and having a diagnosis of ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, my mom fought hard for me to go to this school, rather then send me to a continuation school with a bunch of other aspiring thugs.
Thusly speaking, I thought it would be cool to go back into this special education setting as a teacher, and I thought it would be powerful for the students. The former was not true due to the dysfunction of the school, but the latter was immensely true.
At any rate, while working at this NPS, as they are referred to, I worked closely with many professionals who as opposed to focusing on the educational side, they worked on the clinical side of things. They were therapists, therapists in training, behavior support assistants, etc. And after the second or third person recommended the book “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”, I decided to hop on Amazon and see what was cooking.
“The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” is series of ‘case studies’/stories about children that Dr. Bruce D. Perry has helped over the years as a child psychologist (or something of the sort). Through these chapters Perry is able to drop science about the brain, and trauma, and development, while at the same time eliciting the pathos of childhood for some, in the end, providing a book that helps with empathy, but also gives the reader a schema in which to understand some of the students they may encounter.
While I had several takeaways while reading this book, one of the lasting takeaways, or “Enduring Understandings” as we call it when we are unit planning, was the science behind the brain. Perry and Szalavitz outline early on the way that the brain works and develops. I have heard about how the pre-frontal cortex develops in the late teens and early twenties, and that is why, for example, the most violent crimes are done by people in their late teens (Source: Sociology degree). But I didn’t realize that our brain develops from the stem and is similar to lizards at that point, and that it continues to the middle of the brain and is similar to cats and dogs, etc.
Additionally, it was interesting to hear the stories in this book and see how some children’s brain development was stunted by trauma. Seemingly to me, as I understand it from the book, children’s development can be delayed through trauma, and sometimes they need therapeutic interventions to help shore that gap between their actual age and the age they may be functioning at in some ways.
This is the type of stuff that helps me as an educator. When I was teaching in high-needs schools in California I would always have at least a couple foster children or adopted children, and although I am an adult adoptee and was on the board of directors of an adoption support group called FAIR Families, I just didn’t understand how this early trauma could affect the brain, and how students subsequently relate to the world. Thus, with these insights from the book I am able to recalibrate my approach to how I work with some students.
This book is legit. Without seeing the alphabet soup at the end of Bruce Perry’s name, or seeing the scholarly index and notes pages at the end of the book, it is clear through reading the text that Perry has a vast amount of experience in childhood trauma and we should be grateful that he shared his thoughts and stories to help us help children who have been victim to abuse.
This book has given me a good foundation in which to look at student behavior in the school setting. Although I knew from my own experiences how trauma can last forever, I didn’t realize things such as how trauma can be triggered by small consequences in the classroom, or looks from one peer to another. Through reading these stories in the book I am now able to have a different take on my observations of students and the plans of action that I set in place.
Check it out.