According to a research at Stanford school of medicine, children who have faced trauma during childhood have higher risk of learning and behavioral disabilities. These traumatic experiences can cause children to score lower on IQ and other standardized tests as compared to the children who have more stable childhood. The study is significant as it would help physicians diagnose PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) rather than attention deficits (ADHD): two conditions with similar symptoms but very different treatment methods.
The research examined children living in low income, violent neighborhoods and found very strong correlation between child abuse, stress (trauma), neglect and behavior and learning difficulties at schools. One such example concluded the probability of having learning problems increased 30 times for the kids facing four kinds of trauma mentioned above. This goes against the notion that kids get used to these stressful events. The research contradicts this popular opinion and points that the traumatic experiences remain stressful for kids living in violent and low-income neighborhoods and impact a child’s physiology.
Implications for pediatricians:
Currently, most pediatricians don’t screen children for mental trauma and stress which results in wrong diagnoses. These findings point out the importance of correctly diagnosing children for trauma as compared to ADHD so that the right treatment for the children can be initiated. Following are the key kinds of trauma that were identified as the drivers for learning problems:
1. Parents or other household members with the history of alcohol and drug abuse
2. Mentally ill or incarcerated family members
3. Having a mother who was a victim of domestic violence
4. Broken family households where parents don’t live together
Prior work done on adult psychology also associates the adulthood mental and physical problems with the traumatic experiences in childhood. For example, middle class men who have experienced above mentioned events in their childhood have more chronic diseases in their adulthood. This study points out to the need for early diagnosis and intervention in order to avoid not only mental issues but also physical issues in later life of a child. One example of this is obesity caused by childhood trauma. Obesity may cause diabetes, heart conditions and inflammatory diseases if the child isn’t correctly diagnosed for the condition during childhood.
The research was based on the record of 701 children in a San Francisco neighborhood. About half of the children come from African American background while other half were a mix of ethnicities. Each child was scored from 0 to 9 for adverse events. Medical records and obesity as well as performance at school were used as an evidence to identify learning and behavioral difficulties.
Diagnosis of ADHD vs. PTSD:
About 30% of the kids in violent communities have PTSD symptoms. However, physicians aren’t usually trained to assess the possibility to childhood trauma while dealing with patients. In most of the cases, these kids are diagnosed with ADHD which has a completely different treatment: kids with PTSD require psychotherapy while kids with ADHD require stimulant medication. “Ignoring the possibility of PTSD by not asking about Trauma is utilizing avoidance and hence perpetuating PTSD”, according to the lead researcher Dr. Carrion.
Funds for the study were provided by the Lennar Urban Corporation and was awarded to Dr. Carrion from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Evans Foundation.