“The Silent Epidemic” – Childhood Trauma – Part 1: Child Traumatic Stress What is Child Traumatic Stress?
Child traumatic stress (CTS) is a psychological reaction towards traumatic experiences. It is not a formal diagnosis, as opposed to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CTS helps us to understand the range of reactions that children and adolescents have towards trauma and the difficulties they faced in moving on from the trauma (“Understanding child traumatic stress”, n.d.). Traumatic experiences have a direct impact on brain and body development, especially in young children who are still developing. It is associated with reduced brain cortex sizes, which affects thinking, memory, attention, perceptual awareness, language and the ability to regulate emotions. Thus often interfering with school performance and enjoyment (National Child Traumatic Stress Network [NCTSN], 2010), and subsequently negatively affecting the way children view the world and the future.
Children with traumatic experiences react in both physiological and psychological ways. These reactions may be experienced as distressing, but are adaptive and serves as protection or a way to confront the danger at the time of the trauma. However, it becomes maladaptive when these reactions continue to persist long after the trauma has ended (NCTSN, 2003). The fears and associated emotional and physical reactions may recede into the background, but any reminders of the original trauma is sufficient to trigger the same traumatic stress and reactions, as the original event. This occurs due to our evolutionary wiring for survival as humans. The brain and body are hypersensitized to danger signals such as raised voices or angry expressions, and these continue to take priority in the individual (“Understanding child traumatic stress”, n.d.), whether as a child, an adolescent or as an adult. The world is being perceived as a dangerous place, and the individual lives and interacts with the world as such.
How does trauma occur?
We live exposed to various dangers every day. Dangers become traumas when children experience threats or actual harm to emotional and/or physical well-being. NCTSN describes 13 types of traumas (“Types of traumatic stress”, n.d.), and children may involve being a witness or a victim in the event. They include:
- Physical Abuse – Sexual Abuse – Domestic Violence
- Early Childhood Trauma – Complex Trauma
- Traumatic Grief – Neglect – Medical Trauma
- Community Violence – School Violence – Natural Disasters – Refugee Trauma – Terrorism
Not every child who experienced trauma will develop symptoms, decisive factors include presence of past traumas, availability of support and existing mental and/or emotional strengths and weaknesses.
“1 in every 4 children will experience a traumatic event before age 16”
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2003). What is child traumatic stress?. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsnet.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/what_is_child_traumatic_stress_0.pdf.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2010). Early childhood trauma. Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
Types of traumatic stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types.
Understanding child traumatic stress. (n.d.). Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
Gratitude – Quek Wan Ting