Childhood Trauma Does What?

We examined the intersection of adoption, trauma, and the brain in our very first Newsletter. As noted then, trauma is a very complex subject. This Newsletter will dig into exactly how childhood trauma changes your child. Once again, we are going to start with the brain.

Our brain is a mysterious organ. It is in charge of everything in our bodies. Common knowledge is that the first 2 years of a child’s life are the most important. This time provides the ultimate opportunity and capacity for growth to occur. The largest changes in any human life take place in these first few years.  The brain is a fabulous structure but is especially vulnerable during this time. The best way to think about the brain in the first 2 years of life is that it is developing. The definition of developing means “growing and becoming more mature, advanced, or elaborate.” So if trauma interrupts this growth, of course there will be ramifications.

Trauma can take so many different forms: neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse, loss of a parent, living with someone with mental illness, domestic violence, living with someone with addiction, and prenatal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol. If you have adopted a child, they more then likely have experienced one or more of these significant forms of trauma. And as loving and spectacular of a parent you are, you cannot take away what happened to your child before they met you. Please do not underestimate the serious impact of these types of trauma. Especially if the trauma occurred in early childhood when their amazing brains were developing and the most susceptible to real and lasting damage.

The function of the brain is to adapt to the environment and learn. If the environment is “scary,” then your child’s brain will adapt to “scary” and develop behaviors that will keep that child as safe as possible. So the brain will adapt to the experience it is presented with. The problem with a brain that has experienced early trauma is that once that person is removed from trauma, their brain remains in “trauma-mode.” It has created a maladaptive pattern of behaviors that are no longer necessary. This is where your child’s development has been interrupted, changed, and most likely impaired.

Without going into too much scientific detail, the point is that all of our brains are connected to our bodies. That you child’s behaviors are a result of a complex brain-body connection. If you see your child through this lens, then it will change and improve your subsequent interactions, interventions, and most importantly your connection to them!