The developing brain and child abuse

“There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that… trauma has a powerful influence on the development of the brain.  The effects of abuse on the person are an attack on the brain whether the abuse is physical, emotional, neglect, sexual or a combination of all or some of these forms.”
(Rose, 2012)

  • The vast majority of brain development occurs in childhood and adolescence. The pace of development is more rapid in the very early years of life than at any other time.
  • Components of this development are experience dependent. That is, the specific learning and behavioural experiences in a child’s environment have a significant impact on the development of each area of the brain.
  • When a child experiences trauma and abuse they may not receive appropriate learning and behavioural experiences that facilitate healthy brain development. This can have long-term effects on brain function and even structure.
  • Poorer brain functioning impacts on all areas of development including cognitive, social, emotional and physical.  Every area of development impacts on other areas.
  • Developmental delays in one area will impact on the child’s ability to consolidate skills and progress through to the next developmental stage.
  • For many children who have experienced trauma and abuse their chronological age does not match their developmental age.
  • Numerous brain hormones are normally released in response to stress and regulate a wide range of body functions. Severe childhood stress damages the normal responsiveness of this system and this may persist into adulthood. Repeated stress may alter the sensitivity of brain cells in certain regions and in some particularly vulnerable people cause significant damage to the functioning of for example the limbic system.
  • This damage results in many difficulties for example regulating emotions, memory concerns, inattention, impulse control issues and hypersensitivity to the fight/flight response.

Abuse Information

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