University of Washington research on children who began life in these institutions shows that early childhood neglect is associated with changes in brain structure. A paper published this month in Biological Psychiatry shows that children who spent their early years in these institutions have thinner brain tissue in cortical areas that correspond to impulse control and attention. "These differences suggest a way that the early care environment has dramatic and lasting effects for children's functioning," said lead author Katie McLaughlin, a UW assistant professor of psychology.
Since 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project has worked to document and treat the children's health. McLaughlin joined the team about six years ago to focus on brain development. This study is among the first in any setting to document how social deprivation in early life affects the thickness of the cortex, the thin folded layer of gray matter that forms the outer layer of the brain. The study provides "very strong support" for a link between the early environment and ADHD, McLaughlin said.