After six years, I am finally learning to accept that my adopted children’s lives have been affected by early life trauma. And the effects may last a lifetime. It’s been a struggle to get to this point. And now I have, I want to understand, and address how early childhood trauma has affected the brain, and how this affects my children’s lives.
The effects of early childhood trauma adopted children’s lives
The trauma TED Talk
Dr Nadine Burke Harris is a paediatrician specialising in how adverse childhood experiences (trauma) are a risk factor for adult diseases such as heart disease and cancer. She has a medical practice that looks for and treats children’s toxic stress.
Her TED Talk pretty much summarises what the last six years have been like.
Understanding the grey stuff
To understand the effects of my children’s early exposure to early childhood trauma I need to understand how toxic stress affects the brain.
And it isn’t just bad behaviour
And understanding the science is helping me understand my children’s behaviour.
That’s why ‘normal’ behaviour strategies just don’t work. That’s something schools have to try and understand – no more traffic lights, no more reward charts. It only makes things worse.
Science explains a lot
1. Exposure to toxic stress in early childhood affects the developing brain
2. It affects the nucleus accumbens – the reward centre part
3. The prefrontal cortex is affected – the part of the brain responsible for impulsive control, executive functions and learning
4. And the amygdala – that’s affected too, the area responsible for fear
Our lives feel trapped in a cycle of fight or flight
I see this every day.
I tell my child, that’s enough TV, time to come off the PS4, can you please tidy your room. They’ve lost their PE kit again, can’t find their cuddly toy – they can fly into a rage.
And there it is. I am the angry bear, and they need to fight me off – and bang on cue – screaming, shouting, tantrums.
And it answers why my child had so many problems navigating playtime. What should have been a happy, playful experience turns into the anticipation of what might happen as they enter the playground switched onto to full strength danger sensing hyper-alert mode – fight or flight!
My kids’ responses to risk seem skewed.
They like to climb the highest part of the climbing frame, jump off the tallest wall, the push themselves harder, faster, further – always wanting to take a bit more risk. A simple play in the park can be heart-stopping.
But stick them on a ski slope, they’ve been twice, and they can’t wait to tackle the steepest, fastest black run.
And just because my children have been adopted
Doesn’t mean it’s over.
The effects continue, even after six years their exposure to early life toxic stress and exposure to early childhood trauma lives on.
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