Child Life, Monday Movie Series

Childhood Trauma Across the Lifespan

Traumas from our childhood can continue to affect us as individuals as we age into adolescence, young/emerging adulthood, and through our entire lifespan.  Not only are there emotional and mental implications that trauma has on us, but there are also neurological implications as well.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris speaks about her experience working in California at the California Pacific Medical Center where she was a part of opening a clinic. She began to notice a trend of children being referred to her for ADHD, but after her own evaluation, she could not diagnose them as having ADHD. She felt as though she was missing something important within these children. Because of this, she began to research more into how exposure to adversity affected children.  A colleague of hers mentioned the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.  This was a study completed by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser, and Dr. Bob Anda at the CDC, where they asked over 17,500 adults about their history of exposure to adverse childhood events or ACEs.

They then correlated these adverse childhood experiences with their health outcomes.  These researchers found that the higher the ACE score, the worse their health outcomes. In other words, the more adverse childhood events a person experienced, the more at risk these adults were at developing certain chronic illnesses or diseases.

I briefly mentioned earlier that there are specific neurological effects that Researchers are now consistently finding that trauma and adverse childhood events trauma affects the brain in numerous ways. It inhibits the prefrontal cortex, which is necessary for impulse control and executive functioning, the amygdala, which is the brains fear response center, and the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure and reward circuit of our brain.

Children are especially sensitive to repeated exposure of adversity because they are still developing.  In children, adversity and trauma not only affects brain structure and function, as it does in adults, but it also affects their developing immune and hormonal systems, and the way their DNA is read and transcribed.

Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat.

-Dr. Robert Block, Former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics

With this quote in our minds, let’s think about how we, as Child Life Specialists can address adverse childhood experiences.  In our field of Child Life, it’s important that we always advocate for why it’s important we do what we do. This video is just a piece of why Child Life Specialists are involved in the care of children who have been hospitalized.  When children are hospitalized, we know that there will be stressors for most children.  Furthermore, we know that most children suffer stressors specific to their age or developmental stage.  We should understand that for some children, being hospitalized is a piece of their trauma. We are there to help these children overcome these ACEs that arise in response to hospitalization because this in turn will affect their health outcomes.

I encourage you to all watch this video and take as much information with you as possible.  Use this information to educate others and advocate for Child Life.  If we don’t understand why we have a purpose in the treatment of children in the hospital, then we won’t be able to help others understand either.  It’s up to those involved in Child Life to spread what we know and advocate for our place.


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