Developmental Trauma

Researchers van der Kolk et al. have proposed that children who are significantly psychologically and emotionally disturbed as a result of their traumatic upbringings be diagnosed with Developmental Trauma Disorder  (although the proposed diagnosis is not yet included in the DSM or, to give it its full title, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness).

The researchers who propose the diagnosis argue that the various diagnoses disturbed children currently receive, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder and anxiety, are too narrow, restricted and limiting and, furthermore, do not recognize or acknowledge the ‘big picture’ (i.e. the full extent and range of the damage that has been done to child’s functioning).

They also argue that limited and narrow diagnoses like Oppositional Defiant Disorder lead to clinicians focusing too much on correcting the behaviour at the expense of identifying and understanding the underlying cause of it (i.e. the trauma that the child has suffered).

Van der Kolk, in his book The Body Keeps Score (see below) describes Developmental Trauma Disorder as having three prime features; these are as follows:

1) A pervasive pattern of dysregulation:

According to van der Kolk, this may entail dramatic mood swings, outbursts of extreme temper, panic, detachment, flatness, dissociation and the inability to self-sooth

(In relation to this, you may wish to read my article : FIVE TYPES OF DYSREGULATION LINKED TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

2) Impaired ability to pay attention and concentrate (due to agitation and hyperarousal)

3) Impaired ability to get along with others and, as van der Kolk puts it, ‘a failure to get along with [ oneself ].’

, Developmental Trauma

 

Associated Physical Symptoms:

Van der Kolk also draws our attention to the fact that, because the child suffering from Developmental Trauma Disorder is constantly in a state of high stress (and, subsequently, is likely to have an abnormally high level of stress hormones – such as cortisol – coursing through his/her veins) s/he will also be susceptible to various physical symptoms; these include:

headaches

sleep disruption

stomach upsets

oversensitivity to sounds and tactile experiences

– problems with fine motion movements

Extreme Need To Relieve Stress:

The young person with Developmental Trauma Disorder, in an attempt to alleviate the severe stress s/he perpetually feels, may, also, according to van der Kolk:

self-harm (e.g. cutting self with razor)

masturbate excessively

– rock to and fro whilst sitting down

Neediness And Self-Hatred:

If the child has been rejected and/or largely ignored by his/her parents/caregivers this may lead him/her to become extremely ‘needy’ and clingy.

Also, s/he is likely to have internalized his/her parents’/caregivers’ negative view of him/her and therefore develop feelings of self-hatred, of being intrinsically unlovable, and of being worthless and of no value to others.

, Developmental Trauma

 

How Childhood Trauma Can Disrupt Developmental Progress

 

What Is Meant By Childhood Development?

We can define childhood development as a complex process of developing competences and attaining achievements from early childhood through to adolescence / early adulthood. These fall into the following main categories :

– physical

– emotional

– social

– intellectual / cognitive

– moral

Young Child :

During early childhood developmental tasks include :

  • building a sense of trust
  • learning to separate from parents (e.g. when starting school)
  • learning to adapt to peer group
  • learning to adapt to authority figures
  • development of feeling of safety away from the home
  • development of friendships
  • development of thinking / cognitive / intellectual abilities
  • development of self-esteem

, Developmental Trauma

 

Adolescence :

During adolescence boys and girls experience 6 main developmental tasks. These are :

  • maintaining progress towards independence
  • solidifying a capacity for meaningful relationships
  • clarification of a sense of sexual identity
  • development of interests and competencies
  • internalization of moral values
  • development of autonomy

 

Timing :

How the child is affected will depend upon the timing of the trauma (and its adverse consequences) and at which stage of the developmental process the child is at at this time. Depending upon this timing the child may develop problems relating to attachment (such as reactive attachment disorder, disorganized attachment disorder or insecure attachment), separation anxiety, psychosexual issues and social issues such as problems with peer relationships. However, any of the developmental tasks referred to above may be adversely affected.

If traumatic experiences coincide with critical developmental transitions, such transitions may be jeopardized ; how these ill-effects manifest themselves is subject to great variability – see below :

  • development may be interrupted
  • development may be delayed
  • development may be arrested (e.g. a traumatized teenager’s emotional development might get stuck at, say, thirteen)
  • the child may regress to an earlier stage of development (e.g. a toilet trained toddler might start having accidents)
  • a developmental stage may be accelerated / the child may undergo precocious development

Mastery :

Mastering these stages / developmental tasks are necessary for an emotionally and psychologically healthy adult life, and, because they require much psychic energy are largely dependent upon a safe, stable, supportive and nurturing environment.

 

eBooks :

, Developmental Trauma

 

Above eBook now available for instant download from Amazon. Click here for further details or to view other titles.

 

To purchase van der Kolk’s book/eBook, click on image below:

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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