Here are three articles that might be of interest, from separate parts of the country, but interconnected in the growing awareness of how to understand, treat and prevent trauma. The first story looks at how those who were traumatized passed their trauma on to their children. The second story looks at how children who have experienced adversity aren’t really incurable — people just haven’t figured out how to help them. And the third offers some ways to build resilience.
The Academy on Violence and Abuse, which educates health care professionals about the often unrecognizable health effects of violence and abuse, produced a four-hour DVD of interviews with the co-founders of the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, released a 14-minute executive summary.
The organization released a three-minute teaser last year. For those unfamiliar with the ACE STudy, this 14-minute puts a little more meat on the bones.
And if you want to know what your ACE score is — as well as how you’re doing on building resilience into your life — go to the survey: Got Your ACE Score? The ACE survey has 10 questions, and the resilience survey has 14.
I am a survivor of sexual and physical abuse. The experience changed me. It shapes and informs who I am – how I interact with others and the world around me. Yes, I have grown stronger as a result of these experiences; they are the wellspring of my passion and strength. Scars do that, they remind us of the past and how far we have come. Yes, great healing occurs but, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, the thin line of the break is always evident.
A very wise woman who walked with me through the early days of my healing journey once said when I asked her if the pain would always be so wrenching,
“The times between these moments will be longer. The pain itself will seldom be so strong. The time you are bent over in fear will not last so long. But you will always be a woman who has experienced violence. You may go to a party, someone tells a joke, everyone laughs, and you leave immediately to go home, to bed…not for long but the memory will come up again. The body knows. It is an archive of your history. It cannot be erased but it can be the basis of your body wisdom.”
So when we speak of the neuroplasticity of the brain, do not assume that every trace of the past is vanished. It just does not loom so large; it does not drive our every action, thought or feeling.
I don’t think we forget. We grow strong in the broken (read: wounded) places. And that is not a bad thing. It is a remarkable thing.
Rene Andersen sent this in a message on a list-serv; she said it would be OK to post here. Rene (pronounced “ree-nee”) has been active in leading recovery projects, especially developing peer-to-peer communities, for decades. She says her work “is grounded in the community, centered on the resiliency of the individual, and borne out of personal experience with recovery from abuse and addiction.” I’m doing a story about the trauma-informed care movement, and have interviewed her.
Two kindergarteners at Cherokee Point Elementary School in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood get into a fight on the playground. Their teacher sends them to the principal’s office.
Instead of suspending or expelling the six-year-olds, as happens in many schools, Principal Godwin Higa ushers them to his side of the desk. He sits down so that he can talk with them eye-to-eye and quietly asks: “What happened?” He points to one of the boys. “You go first.”
While reading a 2007 press release from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I became unusually hopeful for youths diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A study performed jointly by the NIMH and the National Institute of Health revealed the brains of youths with ADHD develop normally but at different rates. In the prefrontal cortex, development was delayed three years on average in youths diagnosed with ADHD. This region of the brain is associated with higher-order executive functions and is responsible for coordinating actions with thoughts according to a person’s goals and intentions.
But while development of the prefrontal cortex lags in youths with ADHD, the motor cortex, which controls voluntary body movement, matures faster. These combined changes correlate with behaviors seen with ADHD: fidgety, restless bodies that have difficulty inhibiting behavior and focusing attention. These behaviors impact their ability to do well in reward-based systems that require delaying gratification while working towards long-term goals (that is to say, school).
There’s something untoward about a married woman of my age writing about lust, let alone feeling it. I should be spending time managing my hormones rather than hot flashes of an entirely different sort. But I am here to disclose that, yes, lust continues well into middle age. And here lies the problem: lust continues well into middle age. Even if I want to stroll quietly into my elder years, tending my senility alongside the geraniums, sexy advertisements block my path. I barely open a web page without some scintillating image reminding me the seduction game is always afoot. (And then there is porn, just a free click away.)
Yet despite the seeming worldwide sex obsession, sex isn’t what sells. Lust sells. Lust, like sex, physically stirs, but lust is a longing that exists separate from fulfillment. Lust draws us to the object of desire – or as it happens on the web, to an image of what we desire.
Social life depends on separating lust from sex. Although lust can go on interminably inside us, acting on lust without another’s consent is to breach personal liberties. Sexy advertisements and porn exploit the division between lust and sex, doing all they can to stimulate lust. Implicitly they suggest that escape from social
Until we understand the etiology of a disease or condition, we tend to blame the victim. It seems to be human nature.
In the mid-1800s, people thought that if you came down with cholera, a disease caused by bacteria, it was your fault. Those who came down with cholera “deserved” it. Some people thought it was caused by immoral living, including not attending church. During New York City’s cholera epidemic in 1832, according to New York Times reporter John Noble Wilford, the director of New York City’s historical society wrote:
“Those sickened must be cured or die off, & being chiefly of the very scum of the city, the quicker [their] dispatch the sooner the malady will cease.”
In the 1980s, the same reaction occurred when the AIDS epidemic, caused by a virus, came to light. It was commonly regarded as a disease of gay men, whose “immoral” lifestyle was to blame.
People who are violent and/or victims of violence, especially within families, are generally regarded as entirely to blame for their actions. Men are “evil” or “bad” because they abuse (most abuse in families is carried out by men). Women are “stupid” for staying in the relationship. But epidemiological, neurobiological and epigenetic research is showing that behaviors, brains and genes are shaped early in childhood, and that without intervention or support, the likelihood of a child who witnesses and/or experiences abuse continuing on a path to abusing or becoming a victim of abuse increases substantially.
So, it’s no wonder that, generally speaking, if children behave “badly”, our systems blame them for it and slap labels on them: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder (CD), mood disorder (MD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). They also hold the child responsible for changing her or his behavior — either with drugs or therapy — and, except in cases of obvious and repeated child abuse, don’t look to see if the environment in which the child lives needs to change, too.
Some interesting research is emerging that’s taking a more holistic approach. According this recent MedPageToday.com overview of a study of 2,422 children who were treated at four Indiana pediatric clinics, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis found that “children exposed to both parental violence and depression before the age of 3 were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before they were 6…”
In another MedPageToday.com overview of a study at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, researchers following 320 children found that in “children whose families were investigated by child protective services for suspected abuse and where there had also been reports of intimate partner violence, cessation of the violence led to an 11.9% decrease” in withdrawal and depression in children, and nearly a 20% decrease in aggression and anger. These changes lasted throughout the length of the study — seven years.
The researchers also asked the caregivers who’d been investigated for abuse and violence how many had received referrals or services to help them stop the violence — only 11.5% had. That’s a shockingly low
In Memphis and Shelby County, TN, an amazing movement is taking hold. Led by the non-profit Urban Child Institute, researchers, strategists, practitioners, parents, and community members are pouring considerable efforts into the health and well-being of children from conception to age three. As they say on their site’s “About” section: “We are dedicated to turning knowledge and research into measurable change.”
The video above lays out the basics of the Baby Small campaign that the organization launched in November.
Baby Small reminds us that the first years of life are a period of both extraordinary development and extraordinary opportunity. Babies’ brains develop in response to their environments. When they are surrounded by safety and love, for example, babies develop a stable sense of security and self-confidence. When these attributes develop in early childhood, they support a child’s readiness for kindergarten, and strengthen the foundation of that child’s success in school and life.
This organization has a wealth of scientific advisors and contributors, one of whom is Bill Day, an award-winning political cartoonist. He’s done some of the most poignant illustrations in defense of children that I’ve ever seen. You can take a look at them on the Urban Child Institute’s illustrations section.
Nearly a month has passed since the tragic school massacre in Newtown, CT. Most of the response has focused on controlling sales of assault weapons. This is a good thing. It can limit the lethality of attacks — automatic guns do more damage than knives. But it will do nothing to prevent violence.
To get at the turning points in the years-long chain of events that led a young, isolated, desperate man to kill his mother, 20 six- and seven-year-old children, six adults and then himself, we need to ask more questions. Questions about what happened to Adam Lanza when he was a child. Questions about his relationships with his mother, Nancy Lanza, and the rest of his immediate and extended family. Questions about whether the community that he grew up in was aware of his troubles and his troubled family, and if and how they helped.
The last 15 years of research about how adverse childhood experiences cause adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence is unequivocal. To understand what happened to Adam Lanza, we have to ask difficult questions. Dr. Vincent Felitti, one of the two principal investigators in the CDC’s groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, noted: “Most of us have been well-taught that it would be terribly rude to inquire, thus often allowing monstrous events to proceed unrecognized.”
Here are the questions, with short explanations of why each is important. At the end, a larger view of how asking these questions can help us prevent another Newtown, CT, massacre.
Was Adam actually diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist?
It has been reported that Adam Lanza had Asperger’s (now officially referred to as being on the autism spectrum), which by itself does not lead to violence. So, something else was going on. Did a trauma-informed professional do the diagnosis, i.e., someone
The most thorough, most sickening and astounding overview I’ve seen of the fatal rape of the paramedic student in India appears in today’s Daily Beast: India’s Fatal Rape Was Typical in a Country That Degrades Women. Journalist Anuradha Roy explains the context of why rape is commonplace, and why the protests won’t make much of a dent in the power structure:
In the 2009 parliamentary elections, India’s political parties fielded 6 candidates charged with rape while 34 candidates were awaiting trial for crimes against women. In the state assemblies, 42 members had rape or associated charges against them at the time of their