In helping children who have been traumatized, Dr. Perry asserts that they can experience a normal adult life if they commit to continuous treatment, remain in loving relationships and are connected with the right resources. The age of the child at the time of trauma and the severity of the trauma are critical factors in determining how well a child will recover; nonetheless, recovery is possible. According to the author, emotions are great markers of context. By this, he implies that a child’s trauma is imprinted on the brain when there are repeated and consistent patterns of negative behavior. This imprinting can only be mitigated to a large extent by a corresponding repeated pattern of consistent and loving/positive interactions. This enables the child to recreate new meanings and for the brain to reset itself and recover. We have heard it said many times that children are resilient. While this is true, resilience does not imply that they do not feel the effects of abuse or trauma, neither is resilience an excuse for maltreatment. It simply means that because the brain of children is not yet fully developed, it’s easier to “reset”.
In the real-life story of 4-year-old Laura who was diagnosed with infantile anorexia, Dr. Perry coins the term “failure to thrive” to aptly describe her condition. Despite receiving adequate nutrition, Laura only weighed 26 pounds and needed to be fed with a tube to make up her caloric intake. When she was referred to Dr. Perry, he conducted further evaluation and discovered that her anorexia was brought upon by her mother’s lack of attention and care for her. The repeated pattern of neglect, abandonment and not being cared for as a child impacted Laura’s brain development and resulted in a brain malfunction manifesting in the form of a hormonal dysregulation impeding normal growth. So, while medical professionals thought to resolve her anorexic tendencies via medication and other techniques, what she really needed to recover was love and attention. Her physical deficiency in the form of a small stature was caused by her insecure attachment with her mother and the only lasting solution would have to be love and a nurturing environment. Some of the causes and lasting problems of this condition are aggression, inability to connect deeply on an emotional level, attention deficit disorder, unruly behavior in school, low self-esteem, and poor academic performance. These presenting symptoms are typical with most young children who have been abused
After many years of working with traumatized children from different socio and economic backgrounds, Dr. Perry developed a neuro-sequential approach for effective treatment. He states that:
- Treatment for traumatized children begins by creating an atmosphere of safety.
- Patterned, repetitive experiences in a safe environment can have a significant impact on a child’s brain development and can help them improve more dramatically than previously imagined.
- In treating neglected or traumatized children, it is important to systematize treatment approaches to match the developmental period at which the damage had first started. This neuro-sequential approach would guide the process until the biological age matches the developmental age to mitigate the damage done by early neglect/abuse.
- Genetics such as temperament and intelligence also determine treatment outcomes
- Timing of trauma is crucial. The earlier it starts, the more difficult it is to treat and the greater the damage is likely to be.
- The social environment is an important factor in predicting outcomes. A child’s social environment is a much greater predictor of his eventual outcome than his genes. The crucial time in a child’s life is during those infant years where the relationship with his parents and environment are more essential than anything else.
- A child who experiences a nurturing environment can form a “home base” and a secure attachment which when sustained results in positive behavioral patterns
In summary, for children and all people to thrive, parents and communities need to work together and not against each other. A healthy community and a strong social support involving multiple stakeholders will help form strong connections, increase accountability and a decreased tendency for children to be abused/traumatized. It really does take a “healthy village to raise a healthy child”.