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January/February 2001Vol. 2, No. 1Research on Romanian Children Shows Age Factors into Attachment Disorder

Childhood development research has consistently shown the importance of bonding to an adult during the first years of life. In a 6-year study of post-institutionalized children adopted from Romania by British couples, researchers found that children who were 6 months or younger when they were adopted had higher IQs and experienced fewer attachment disorder behaviors than children who had spent more time in orphanages.

Drs. Thomas O'Connor and Michael Rutter led a team of researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London that assessed 165 children adopted from Romania and 52 adoptees from the U.K. Information was gathered through periodic interviews with the parents and standard assessments of children's cognitive and social development. Many of the Romanian children had come from orphanages where they were malnourished and deprived of affection and care.

In a September 2000 news conference in London, Rutter acknowledged that "the thing that drove the outcome more than anything else was the age of adoption." Despite their harsh beginnings, the children showed remarkable resilience, with those adopted before age 2 faring the best. Children adopted during their first 6 months of life were indistinguishable from other children when assessed at 4 and 6 years of age.

Even though one-third of children adopted after age 2 had continuing developmental problems, the range of IQs for this group ranged from below 50 to above 130, which is highly superior. "Clearly, even prolonged gross deprivation doesn't make children all the same," observed Rutter. With increasing numbers of couples adopting children from abroad, Rutter said the findings are significant because they show brain development and experience are interrelated.

Attachment Disorder Behavior Following Early Severe Deprivation: Extension and Longitudinal Follow-up was published in the June 2000 issue of Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The article is available online at:

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