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Impact of Trauma & Neurobiology on a Child’s Brain

“Over the last twenty years, neuroscientists studying the brain have learned how fear and trauma influence the mature brain, and more recently, the developing brain. It is increasingly clear that experience in childhood has relatively more impact on the developing child than experiences later in life. This is due to the simple principles of neurodevelopment.”

“By shaping the developing brain, experiences of childhood define the adult. Neurodevelopment is characterized by (1) sequential development and ‘sensitivity’ (the brain “grows” from brainstem to the cortex) and (2) ‘use-dependent’ organization (“use it or lose it”). The mature organization and functional capabilities of brain reflect aspects of the quantity, quality and pattern of the somato-sensory experiences of the first years of life. The sequential and use-dependent properties of brain development result in an amazing adaptive malleability, ensuring that, within its specific genetic potential, an individual’s brain develops capabilities suited for the ‘type’ of environment he or she is raised in. Simply stated, children reflect the world in which they are raised. If that world is characterized by threat, chaos, unpredictability, fear and trauma, the brain will reflect that by altering the development of the neural systems involved in the stress and fear response.”

Perry, B.D. Traumatized children: How childhood trauma influences brain development. In: The Journal of the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill 11:1, 48-51, 2000

“Chronic or repeated exposure to toxic stress in childhood has been termed complex developmental trauma in the research literature. Emerging evidence suggests that children with a history of complex developmental trauma have primary deficits in emotional self-regulation. This in turn results in problems in three main areas: (1) a lack of a continuous sense of self; (2) poor emotion regulation and impulse control, including aggression against self and others; and (3) uncertainty about the reliability and predictability of others, which is expressed as distrust, suspiciousness, and problems with intimacy.”

Recognizing and responding to the effects of trauma (2015). Discussion Guide for Health and Social Service Providers.

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