Jaycee Lee Dugard's reunion with her family after being kidnapped 18 years ago has been a "joyful time" filled with tears and laughter, said Ms. Dugard's aunt at a Los Angeles press conference Thursday.
Tina Dugard gave the first account from a family member who has seen Jaycee Dugard since her rescue last week, providing a brief glimpse into the beginning of what experts say will be a long and challenging recovery for the kidnapping victim and her two children born in captivity.
While Dugard says that her niece "remembers all of us," the two children in this case – girls 11 and 15 years old – are not only meeting new family members for the first time. They're also faced with adapting to an entirely new reality – one in which the man who is allegedly their father faces multiple charges for abducting and keeping their mother captive since 1991.
Details of the secluded life that Jaycee Dugard and her children led in the backyard of an Antioch, Calif., area home are few. But the ones that have come out reveal there was some sense of normalcy amid what appears to be a horrendous crime.
Some neighbors have told reporters they saw the children playing in the front yard. They even attended birthday parties of friends. In an interview with The Orange Country Register, Tina Dugard said the girls watched movies, played video games, and had access to the Internet.
"They are educated and bright," she told the Register. "It's clear that Jaycee did a great job with the limited resources she had and her limited education."
Simply put, say experts, children can adapt to their surroundings.
"From police accounts, the Garrido household sounds like a place in which these basic parenting strategies were used. Shelter for Dugard and her children consisted of shacks and patched-up tents, but it was shelter," wrote David Berreby, author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity," on Doublex.com.
But now, Mr. Berreby said in an interview, the two girls are faced with having to adapt to entirely new identities.
That's not an entirely unusual task, he says, even though "this is an extremely bizarre, horrible, exaggerated version" of the types of identity shifts many people experience. He likened it to – in the most extreme cases – children breaking out of a cult or – in more normal circumstances – an immigrant moving to new country.
Still, say experts, it will be a traumatic adjustment.
"If they seem at all reasonable that would be shocking because they should be falling apart at this point. Their lives have been shattered," says Steve Ajl, a pediatrician and medical director of the Jane Barker Brooklyn Children's Advocacy Center.
From a child abuse perspective, he says, this is "wholly uncharted territory" in many respects. "Hopefully they are accessing some good therapeutic environments and won't be sensationalized."
Tina Dugard told the Register: "I'm a teacher. I know kids. And I can tell you that they are a normal 11- and 15-year-old."
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