How Stress & Trauma Effect Brain Development

When young children go through long periods of stress and trauma, the effects go deep. The experiences have a lasting effect on their emotional well-being and how their brains develop, the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study revealed.

The 1996 study launched the investigation into the link between childhood trauma and long-term health and social consequences. A key finding: early intervention and building protective factors around families can help increase children’s resiliency in adverse situations.

The research has prompted some pediatric mental health professionals to push for developmental trauma disorder being added as a new diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Without the developmental trauma disorder diagnosis available, kids are often incorrectly labeled with ADHD or bi-polar disorder.

“Developmental trauma disorder is like post-traumatic stress disorder in adults,” said Annie Stricklin, program manager for the Nurturing Home program at The Family Center. The new diagnosis would enable professionals to respond to problem behaviors by helping a child re-do developmental stages or by strengthening attachment to healthy caregivers.  The Family Center parent educators are teaching families how to cope with trauma in parenting groups as well as individualized home-based lessons.

Trauma-informed work changes the conversation from “What is wrong with you?”  to “What happened to you?” and helps families focus on moving forward, not blaming.

The Family Center offers parenting groups in Davidson & Rutherford Counties for disadvantaged families. Parents learn about child development, effective communication, understanding and managing children’s behavior, stress management, child safety and developing healthy self-esteem.