It is not just physical abuse that can affect and damage developing brains in children. According to recent findings, emotional abuse and neglect can also have an impact on how a child’s brain develops, leaving them more likely to have learning and emotional disabilities, as they grow older.
Early Childhood Affects On The Brain
A neurologist from the University of California, Los Angles recently released brain scans of two 2-year old children who both came from very different home environments. One child came from a loving home while the other had been exposed to neglect and abuse. The results of the scan showed that the abused child had an under-developed brain in areas that would affect how the child learned and functioned, even into adulthood.
The effects of abuse and neglect on child brain development have been studied before. It is thought that environmental factors in a child’s early development can actual change the how genes within the body react. A study done on Russian orphans who were known to have experienced neglect showed there was actually a change in the children’s DNA, linked to their poor treatment.
During the first two years of a child’s life, 80% of their brain cells are developed. Any disruption in their emotional or physical needs can affect how these cells develop. While physical abuse such as shaken baby syndrome and other forms of child abuse are more apparent in their affect on the child, it seems that other less noticeable forms of abuse can leave physical marks as well.
How Changes In The Brain Occur
When a child is born, their brains are fairly undeveloped. At this point, their small brains will mold and develop over the next few years and can be greatly influenced by their environment. While an adult can be affected by a traumatic event, it will most likely not change their brain physically. In small children, stress, abuse and emotional trauma can actually change the physical properties in their brain.
According to Dr. Bruce Perry, who is considered an expert on brain development, when a child is in constantly in distress or feels threatened, the fear-activation in their brains constantly is on overload. While this survival mode is normal when any person experiences trauma, for children it can actually impact their development and how their neural pathways in the brain are created. This disruption in normal development can lead to a host of problems that can cause both physical and mental disadvantages for the rest of the child’s life.
The good news, if there is any, is that the sooner abuse is recognized and stopped, the better chance children can have of overcoming these delayed developments. Young children are very adaptable and with encouragement and a safe, nurturing environment, it is possible for them to recover at least some of what they lost. The best solution is prevention and increased education on abuse so it can be stopped before it is too late.