Kids Can Be Resilient to Trauma
> 5/27/2008 4:26:00 PM


Despite the fact that traumatic childhood events happen more frequently than many would guess, a relatively small number of those affected go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). From 1993 to 2000, researchers at Duke University interviewed almost 1,500 children aged nine, 11, and 13. Their results, which appeared in the May 2007 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, illustrate the widespread nature of childhood trauma. By the time of follow-up interviews at 16, more than two-thirds of these children reported undergoing some form of traumatic event, ranging from serious accidents or natural disasters to sexual abuse or the dramatic death of a loved one.

The subject of childhood trauma has long been held as an important issue associated with many psychological illnesses. Despite this, most of the children involved in the study did not qualify for PTSD diagnoses. While some 14 percent displayed minor symptoms, only 0.5 percent met all the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. The study's findings, however, are not entirely positive: the children surveyed who had experienced more than one major traumatic event were almost twice as likely as those in the general population to suffer from depression, anxiety disorders or behavioral problems.

While certain events unquestionably leave individuals more susceptible to later struggles with varied disorders, children may be less dramatically affected by their experiences than adults who witness comparable events. Much of this stems from the greater resilience of the child's mind and body. Some believe that, though PTSD may be rooted in the childhood experience, it may only fully develop after a later event or series of circumstances that reinforce the first trauma. PTSD may require a more expansive definition, particularly as it applies to children, because many who display certain symptoms and qualify for alternate diagnoses (depression, anxiety) are excluded from the group officially classified as PSTD. Oversimplifying the effects of traumatic early-childhood events leads to imprecise diagnoses and, inevitably, less effective treatments. Many children overcome these damaging events with relative speed, but this early resilience is no reason to label them unaffected and leave them without help or support.

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