Childhood trauma, is it unique? I just finished reading an article from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University titled “Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain”. There are times I wish I could ignore what I have read, not because I disagree with it but because I wish it was not so. The importance of early work with these children is the main reason Family Christian Counseling Center desires to begin work as soon as the symptoms develop. I will summarize the important points of this article below.
Adrenaline and cortisol production is normal in responding to many forms of acute stress, both of these help the body cope effectively under adverse situations. If the body fails to turn off the cortisol or chronic stress causes its release over an extended period, longer term effects can begin to appear. Some of these effects are: suppression of the immune system, metabolic syndrome, bone mineral loss and muscle atrophy. Long term elevation of cortisol can alter the function of neural systems and even change the architecture of regions of the brain essential for learning and memory.
Trauma and the cortex
The article also states that young children who experience trauma are at a particular risk because their developing brains are very vulnerable, specifically the cerebral cortex. This area is responsible for many complex functions including: memory, thinking, language, attention and perceptual awareness. The most common trauma events for young children are: abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, accidents and physical trauma. One common misconception that is addressed is that infants and young children are too young to be affected by significant stresses that negatively affect others. They may not be able to verbally express it but it does affect them, sometimes at the level of the connections in the brain.
Positive responses to trauma
The effects of traumatic experiences on young children are, at times, hard to think about. The one positive that every study I have read says is that all children are not affected in the same way, nor to the same degree. The Harvard Center said “Children and families possess competencies, psychological resources, and resilience – often even in the face of significant trauma – that can protect them against long-term harm.” An essential protective factor for all children is the reliable presence of a positive, caring and protective parent or caregiver who can help shield the child from further traumatic events. This consistent theme comes across in all the literature I read, this is why adoptive and foster parents are my hero’s.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests these caring adults can help reestablish security and stability in the child’s life by:
- Developing child safety plans
- Helping families expand their “feelings” vocabulary
- Answering children’s questions in language they can understand
- Showing love and affection
Family Christian Counseling Center is thankful for the training and expertise that all trauma therapists have committed themselves to. It is not easy work but it is essential for the health of our nation. If you would like to read more about the Center and their treatment of children's trauma, please click.