+ATTACHMENT: SMART AND STUPID RESEARCH

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Personally I am tired of wandering around in the darkness wondering why I am not a particularly HAPPY person with some kind of an active, exciting, thrilling, fulfilling life full of social connections and emotional well-being.

Sure, my childhood sucked.  But, so what?  “Too bad, so sad, be glad you are grown up now and can make any choice you want to make about yourself in your life.  Get over it!  Get on with it!  Quit feeling sorry for yourself!  Your life is what you make of it.  Still having problems?  You must have bad genes.”

My response is, “Oh, yeah?  Says who?  What can ‘the research’ tell us?”

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My sister sent me an interesting link the other day that presents information directly connected to what I wrote in my December 26, 2009 post where I mentioned that I suspect my social-emotional brain shares some characteristics with autism.  Take a look at this Yahoo news article about research coming from a study of school children:

Texas study confirms lower autism rate in Hispanics

For every 10 percent increase in Hispanic schoolchildren in a given district, the researchers found, the prevalence of autism decreased by 11 percent, while the prevalence of kids with intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities increased by 8 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

The reverse was seen as the percentage of non-Hispanic white children in a district increased, with the prevalence of autism rising by 9 percent and the prevalence of intellectual and learning disabilities falling by 11 percent and 2 percent.

The observed relationships remained for Hispanic children after the researchers accounted for key socioeconomic and health care provider factors, although “urbanicity” of a district, median household income, and number of health care professionals did explain the increased percentage of autism among districts with more non-Hispanic white kids — a finding the researchers call “curious.”

Whether lower autism prevalence in Hispanics is attributable to other, still-unexamined socioeconomic, health care delivery or biological factors “remains a crucial area for further research,” Palmer and colleagues conclude.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, December 2009.

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Well, will you look at that.  All that time, effort and money spent on this research study and did they think to include a measurement of what matters most?  Did they include any kind of questions about size of immediate family, number of siblings, size of the dwelling, or amount of contact with extended family?

I can’t access the full research article online, but here’s what its abstract says:

Am J Public Health. 2009 Dec 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Explaining Low Rates of Autism Among Hispanic Schoolchildren in Texas.

Palmer RF, Walker T, Mandell D, Bayles B, Miller CS.

University of Texas Health Science Center.

In data from the Texas Educational Agency and the Health Resources and Services Administration, we found fewer autism diagnoses in school districts with higher percentages of Hispanic children. Our results are consistent with previous reports of autism rates 2 to 3 times as high among non-Hispanic Whites as among Hispanics. Socioeconomic factors failed to explain lower autism prevalence among Hispanic schoolchildren in Texas. These findings raise questions: Is autism underdiagnosed among Hispanics? Are there protective factors associated with Hispanic ethnicity?

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Researchers are evidently content to conclude their research with such statements as “this is a curious finding,” while they continue to ask their unanswered questions like, “Are there protective factors associated with Hispanic ethnicity?”  There is no reason I can think of to expect that degrees of human attachment don’t affect genes for autism just like it does for schizophrenia, suicide, depression, PTSD and other ‘disorders’ of the body-brain.

I have lived for the last ten years in a small town in southeastern Arizona on the Mexican-American border line.  The fence lies right behind my back yard.  99.9% of this town’s community is Hispanic.  Every family I know has a lot of children.  The children are cherished.  Every family has extended ties to extended family.  Their median income is low.  Many children often share a bedroom.  I have watched them as they grow from infanthood in the closest of interactions with one another within all age groups.  They are social and they are connected to one another.  Nobody is alone.

Duh, researchers.  Do you think that MAYBE the research findings might have to do with safe and secure attachment that builds for these people an excellently formed early social-emotional brain so that autism is not as likely to appear among their culture?

Is there some kind of STUPID gene operating among researchers that prevents them from bothering to consider collecting what is the most obvious information that would answer their questions?  Or is there some kind of implicit agreement among researchers to keep skipping the gathering of the most important attachment related information so they can keep on doing more and more stupid research without gaining any true understanding – because it gives them job security?

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I know this pattern exists.  The same kind of researcher ‘stupid gene’ operated during the South African – Kenyan youth research project on the consequences of trauma.  Follow this link for a description of the kinds of information the researchers collected on the 2000 teenagers in their study.  Did they include any standardized, accurate and useful assessment of attachment relationships among their subjects?  Of course not!  How could they justify spending more and more money on research to answer the puzzling results they found?

The most striking finding was the discrepancy in the rate of PTSD between South African and Kenyan adolescents in the context of equally high rates of trauma exposure (and even higher for specific types of trauma in the Kenyan sample).  The lower rate of PTSD in Kenya adolescents is difficult to explain.”  Seedat et al, 2004, p 173

Note the “difficult to explain” statement.  Read for yourself, “Give me more money so I can use my stupid genes and do more research.  I want to keep my job.”

These researchers noted at the conclusion of their massive project that for all the money spent and for all the extensive effort they put into their research, the were left unable to

“…account for higher rates of PTSD in the South African students, despite higher rates of exposure in Kenyan youth to both sexual assault and physical assault by a family member, as these are traumas that are likely to be repeated.  Further, these traumas were most likely to e associated with a PTSD full-symptom diagnosis.  This discrepancy is one for which we do not have an adequate explanation.”  Seedat et al, 2004, p 174

Obviously these Kenyan children were not necessarily safe and secure in their own home, so how might we consider that attachment information might help explain the difference in outcome between these two groups of extremely traumatized youth?

No standardized or valid attachment assessment tool exists.  These researchers do not seem to be bothered by its absence.  Even though they did not use the word ‘attachment’ in their research conclusions, these researchers did ‘wonder’ if the patterns of differences they observed might be related to the long history of cultural disruption that South Africa has endured in contrast to the retained cultural integrity of Kenya.

Can degrees of safe and secure versus unsafe and insecure attachment be related to degrees of cultural integrity?  The findings of both of these two research studies point in that direction.  Because neither study contained any (nonexistent) standardized collection of attachment information, both studies are left simply pointing in a “a direction for further research.”  Of course this doesn’t bother the researchers.  It guarantees their job security.

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The hole in the bucket of both of these studies validates my thinking.  It is the degree of safe and secure attachment that an infant-child has in its beginning with its mothering caregiver that most influences how a person’s genes manifest themselves as the very young body-brain develops.  The protective factors against any so-called ‘mental illness’, be it depression, aspects of autism, or PTSD are activated very early in a person’s development.

Looking at the end result of degrees of attachment security, even within school age children, tells researchers nothing about how their ‘subjects’ got to be the way they are.  I want to know, “How safe and securely attached were these children to their mothers and their other earliest caregivers from the time they were born – as their body-brain developed in interaction with the experiences the little one had in its environment?”

In my thinking, cultural integrity protects mothers and therefore protects the infants who benefit in their earliest, fundamental development from safe and secure attachment.  As the early body-brain is forming, information from the environment has already told an individual’s genes how to respond and adapt.  Although safe and secure attachment is certainly not guaranteed to children like those in Kenya, not EVEN in their home, the underlying structure of their body-brain seems to have included residency factors that protect them from PTSD.

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Without trying to explain the research today that describes the physiological impact that early stress has on development (notes for a lot of this research can be found HERE), I will simply present some links here today related to research that is showing how child abuse changes genetic expression:

Child Abuse Causes Damage at Genetic Level

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Child abuse ‘impacts stress gene’

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Infant Abuse Linked To Early Experience, Not Genetics

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Gene protects adults abused as children from depression

Influence of child abuse on adult depression: moderation by the corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor gene.

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The Neurobiology of Child Abuse and Neglect

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Do Genetics and Childhood Environment Combine to Pose Risk for Adult PTSD?

Association of FKBP5 polymorphisms and childhood abuse with risk of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in adults.

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Selected Publications of the Members of the Attachment Parenting International Research Group

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And also, the results of a Google search for child abuse brain development

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Researchers need to come up with an accurate way to measure degrees of safe and secure versus unsafe and insecure attachment and add this measurement tool into the design of all research about the affects that trauma has on human beings throughout the lifespan.

Every research study being done that does not include a measure of degrees of attachment is missing the critical piece of information about how attachment creates resiliency factors that protect humans from ongoing problems related to trauma experiences.

All funding channels that support trauma-related research need to mandate that an assessment of the quality of human attachment be included.  Of course, this means that attachment patterns need to be taken most seriously as a primary factor that profoundly influences trauma research results.  Let’s do smart rather than stupid research!  Find a way to accurately measure degree and quality of human attachment – NOW!

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Please note:  I will be taking a break from the blog until Wednesday, January 6, 2010.  Best wishes for a Happy New Year 2010!

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