The Effects of Being an Orphan Images

Inhibited social, cognitive, psychological and physical development are all common long-term effects of orphanhood. Typically, the younger the age of a child when orphaned and the longer he remains without a home, the more drastic the impact that his experiences as an orphan will have on his development.

Inhibited Physical Development

While affectionate touch is associated with decreased stress levels, touch deprivation and the resulting stress increases are associated with weakened immune systems, decreased physical recovery speeds, abnormal growth, and poor overall health even when all other basic needs are fulfilled. A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that the natural growth hormone levels of children living in orphanages tended to be lower than normal and that puberty was typically delayed by a year and a half to two years. Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford concluded that the heights of children who lost their parents before age 15 averaged a final height approximately 2 centimetres shorter than unorphaned individuals. In a 2003 study, a group of Korean infants living in an orphanage received 15 minutes more exposure to a female voice, affectionate touch and eye contact twice a day for 4 weeks. Compared with other infants living in the orphanage, they experienced fewer illnesses and significant increases in weight, body length and head circumference by six months of age.

Increased Susceptibility to Psychological Risks and Emotional Problems

Increased susceptibility to depression and anxiety is another result of the heightened stress levels associated with being an orphan. A 1997 study by Makerere University found that psychiatric disorders were 3.5 times more likely among children in orphanages, compared with children living with their families. Because young children may not yet understand the finality of death, they are unable to fully experience the mourning process which helps adults to cope and as a result may grow up with unresolved anger, depression and anxiety.

Inhibited Cognitive and Mental Development

Cortisol is one stress hormone whose levels increase due to touch deprivation. At consistently high levels, it inhibits normal brain tissue development and damages existing brain tissue. Since one of the most impacted regions is the hippocampus, responsible for learning and memory, affection-deprived orphans tend to experience learning difficulties. A study comparing intelligence quotients of Romanian orphans in foster care with those of children in orphanages suggests that caring family environments can counter at least some of these effects in females. Girls in foster care averaged IQ scores of 82, compared with the general population's average IQ of 100, while those in orphanages averaged IQs of 70. On the other hand, boys in either scenario averaged IQ scores of 60.

Inhibited Social Development and Connectivity

Unhealthy social development is another long-term effect. Orphans are typically deprived of consistent and genuine exposure to the love, affection, warmth and care that contributes to healthy social connection. Touch contributes to nervous system development, trust in others, and a sense of self-worth. Touch-deprived children are more susceptible to paranoia, insecurity and distrustfulness.

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