New Study: Kids More Resilient to Trauma
> 5/8/2007 11:08:53 AM

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 full PTSD. From 1993 to 2000, researchers at Duke University interviewed almost 1,500 children ages 9, 11, and 13. 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 has long been central to much of the psychology discipline, with some going so far as to claim universality in asserting that "Nearly every researcher agrees that early childhood traumas (i.e. those that happen before the age of six) lie at the root of most long-term depression and anxiety, and many emotional and psychological illnesses." And yet, despite this general consensus and numerous reports that such events create structural abnormalities in the developing brain, most of the children involved 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 as positive as they might initially seem: the children surveyed who had experienced major traumatic events were almost twice as likely as those in the general population to suffer from depression, anxiety disorders or behavioral problems.

While a certain class of events unquestionably leaves individuals more susceptible to  later struggles with varied disorders, children seem to be less dramatically affected by their experiences than adults who witness comparable events (at least in their immediate aftermath). Much of this trend stems from the greater resilience of the child's mind and body. Some believe that, though PTSD may be rooted in the childhood experience, its full development often rests on the occurrence of a later event or series of circumstances which reinforce the first, triggering the same responses and leading to long-standing PTSD in its "full-blown" incarnation. The largest conclusion of this study is that PTSD is not neccessarily an all-or-nothing condition, and it 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 turn our diagnostic attentions elsewhere.

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