Russian Boy’s Death Still a Mystery, Despite Medical Findings

Date: 2013-03-04

WASHINGTON, March 4 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) A medical report describing the death in Texas of a 3-year-old adopted Russian boy as “accidental” raises valid questions about just how Max Shatto died and how authorities reached their conclusions, US child health experts said on Monday.

“The institutionalized children, like in Romania, and the Russian children, if they’re older and have been institutionalized longer, you have a higher percentage of self-injury,” said Ron Federici, a pediatric neuropsychologist and director of Virginia-based Neuropsychological & Family Therapy Associates who specializes in adoption trauma medicine.

“But when they’re two, three years old – it’s unlikely at that age,” he said.

Federici said he has been called as a psychological expert in multiple cases involving the deaths of Russian children in the United States.

“In all of them the defense is RAD (reactive attachment disorder), self-injury, self-mutilation behavior… These kids have a complex pattern of developmental failures because they haven’t gone through normal developmental stages, but is it possible they can injure themselves to the point of death? No,” he said.

Federici’s comments echoed expressions of skepticism and outrage coming from Russia, where thousands of people marched in Moscow on Saturday to demand better treatment for Russian orphans and officials charged the real cause of Max’s death earlier this year had still not been illuminated.

At least 19 Russian children adopted by US parents since the collapse of the Soviet Union have died as a result of abuse or negligence. While that number is relatively small, such cases have received extensive media coverage in Russia, which late last year banned further adoptions by US couples.

Max Shatto, also known by his Russian name, Maxim Kuzmin, was adopted along with his younger brother by Alan and Laura Shatto of Gardendale, Texas in November.

Ambulance workers who were called to the home on the afternoon of January 21 found the older boy unresponsive and transported him to an area hospital where he died a short time later.

At a news conference Friday in Odessa, Texas, Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland announced a report certified by four medical examiners following an autopsy of the boy concluded his death was “accidental” and resulted from trauma “consistent with self-injury.”

But Jane Aronson, a pediatrician and adoption medicine specialist who is also the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Worldwide Orphans Foundation, said she too was skeptical of the conclusions from Texas authorities.

“Self-injury is not a large component of behavior in children as young as three,” Aronson told RIA Novosti.

“Older children yes, but we need to look into the forensics in this case,” she said. “This is a child who likely did have attachment issues and behavioral issues, but the amount of force that’s necessary to cause death would not occur.”

The issue of institutionalized children who act out emotional suffering by injuring themselves physically has been raised repeatedly by adoptive parents whose children were harmed, sometimes fatally.

According to Federici and other experts in international adoption, it is a behavior that has been documented more frequently in children from Russia and former East Bloc European nations, where rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and exposure to drugs are higher than in some other regions.

“Maybe the kid was careless or reckless – we know coming from an institutional setting they have more aggressive behavior. But not of the level of severity to cause a death? No way,” Federici said.

An attorney hired to represent the Shatto family however said in the short time since his adoption in November, the parents had taken Max to the doctor several times because of alarming behavior.

“He was suffering from some behavior problems, he would bang his head against things, hit things, cry all night, do a lot of things which have been found to be not uncommon in children from institutions,” said the attorney, Michael Brown.

That recent medical documentation, said Bland, played a role in helping investigators determine whether the death was accidental.

“I feel completely confident in the doctors’ findings here,” he said.

Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the National Council For Adoption, a nonprofit adoption advocacy group, concurred, saying abnormal behavior was not uncommon among children adopted from state institutions where basic developmental and emotional needs were not met.

“They engage in behaviors to satisfy something inside them, even if it doesn’t make sense to us,” Johnson said.

“It’s why you see them rocking back and forth, slapping their faces, clapping or swinging their hands in the air. Taken to the extreme, they mutilate or harm themselves.”

Authorities in Texas said the investigation into Max’s death was still in progress. Officials in Russia meanwhile have demanded that they be privy to all information gathered in the probe.


Not sure what to think...

I found this article, featuring Federici, a bit interesting.

Maybe it's me, but this latest piece seems to suggest Federici is changing his tune and attitude toward foreign (Russian) adoptees a bit.  Is it possible he believes not every foreign born child is NOT an institutionalized animal in need of strong re-training?  Is there a sincere softer side to The Emperor?

I'll be blunt, I fear his more compassionate outlook on adoptees with difficult behavior issues (due to loss, neglect, and trauma) is more for his own sake ( media reports, which we collect) and for the sake of his own adoption agenda, Russian and Ukrainian Private Adoption Project.  Should this project of his become a real success, it could mean, in-theory, he'd become the world's top-dog when it comes to Adoption Therapy.

Personally, I wish we could find some older adoptees who were "treated" by him... or had other films showcasing his clinical approach.  [See:  video related to Saving Dane.  Note how the parents mount the child, using body-weight as a restraint... and consider how many uneducated/angry APs can take this method to a whole new dangerous level, making such "therapeutic techniques" a real nightmare for some very confused adoptees.]

What we DO have from/about him is a bit disturbing.  [See:  Is Federici Silencing The Adopted? ] And I think this type of material reveals the more honest side of this professional's personality -- something fellow APs may want to consider, when choosing a therapist for their adopted child. 

Unfortunately, as much archived material we (PPL) may already have on specific treatments/therapies used on adoptees, I feel like so much of it is limited, especially since Ronald Federici had all questionable evidence taken down and off the Internet, before it could be recovered and saved by archive-collectors, like us. [See:  The Emperor strikes back: Pound Pup Legacy shut down over information about Ronald Federici ]

For the sake of future adoptees taken to "adoption specialists" I'd like more personal testimonies from the adoptees themselves, not the APs, because it's the adoptee who is being treated a certain way by those in parenting roles and positions of authority.   I believe the honest POV and feed-back from "treated adoptees" ought to be shared and respected, especially if part of their "therapy" involved the use of Holding Therapy.

In short, Federici has demonstrated a very spiteful angry side, as exampled in his published rant, condemning critics who have questioned his methods and practice.  Given his own self-interest (his current Adoption Project), I can't help by wonder what the man is up to, when he makes formal statements to members of the media, whilst his official website link now leads readers to a Go Daddy dot com web page.  (?!?) 

Is this a man/therapist/professional who can be trusted not to hurt, damage, or vilify the traumatized adoptee with unwanted behavior?

Based on his many outbursts and threats made against critics who question his practices and working philosophy, I just have this feeling he's using this most recent case as a way to promote himself, via the media.  Through the media, he can say just about anything to ensure the public sees him as he wishes to be seen, and not like the brute many of us have encountered via the Internet.  When I read his media remarks, I am reminded of the AP who appears ONE way, (when around others), but is the mad crazy Jekyll-Hyde control-freak  so many of us adoptees have had to face, once we were behind locked doors.

Pound Pup Legacy