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Dandelion and Orchid Children
October 23, 2014

We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
-Will Rogers

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A Scientific American article, "On the Trail of the Orchid Child", describes a "startling new concept in genetics" introduced by Bruce J. Ellis of the University of Arizona and W. Thomas Boyce of the University of California, Berkeley — dandelion children and orchid children:

"....Dandelion children seem to have the capacity to survive — even thrive — in whatever circumstances they encounter.  They are psychologically resilient. Orchid children, in contrast, are highly sensitive to their environment, especially to the quality of parenting they receive.  If neglected, orchid children promptly wither — but if they are nurtured, they not only survive but flourish.  In the authors’ poetic language, an orchid child becomes 'a flower of unusual delicacy and beauty.'

"Inside the small world of scientists who study genetics and child development, the notion of the orchid child was stunning.  The idea of resilient children was hardly new, nor was the related idea that some kids are especially vulnerable to the stresses of their world.  What was novel was the idea that some of the vulnerable, highly reactive children — the orchid children — had the capacity for both withering and thriving.  They appeared to be extremely sensitive to home and family life, for better or worse.  Is it possible, scientists wondered, that genes underlie this double-edged childhood sensitivity?"





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