Child sexual abuse has long been a taboo subject in the United States, but research on the topic is starting to come to light.
A new study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, looks at how traumatized children react to traumatic brain injuries, such as brain damage caused by a car crash or brain damage sustained in an accident.
Researchers found that children who had been traumatized during the age of five or six, or had experienced some form of traumatic brain injury at an early age, were more likely to report feelings of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts than children who were not traumatized.
They also reported a higher likelihood of feeling fearful and hopeless when compared to children who did not experience any trauma.
The study authors say their findings suggest that the brain is not ready to heal from traumatic brain damage in children who are not traumatised.
The findings also indicate that it is not possible to predict with certainty whether a child who was traumatized by an event of sexual abuse will experience a long-term recovery from the traumatic brain insult.
“Children who were traumatized, either before or after they had a traumatic brain trauma, have a poorer response to distress and distress-related coping behaviors, and their distress-associated coping behaviors are associated with more severe psychosocial outcomes such as more difficulty adjusting to life and difficulty with social skills,” study co-author Michael Osterholm, a clinical psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News.
Osterholm also noted that many people think it’s okay for children to be traumatized and that it’s important to get children to see themselves in their therapists.
“But it’s not OK for children who’ve been traumatised, and they’re often not able to make that connection to their therapists,” Osterheim said.
“We’re seeing a growing trend of children who have been traumatizing themselves who are being re-traumatized by their own experiences, and the parents aren’t taking the time to see that.”
The researchers say that while they cannot say exactly how children react when they’re traumatized with respect to their own feelings, they can say that it does not make a difference whether the child is experiencing their own trauma.
“We know from other studies that parents don’t want their child to be in pain, but if they feel pain, they’ll go and talk to their therapist,” Ostersholm said.
“So if the child feels pain and the parent is afraid of what’s going to happen if the parent gets angry, and so on, then the parent may feel that the child will respond negatively to the parent’s pain and anger, and then they may be the one who’s going off on a dangerous path.”
Osterheim says the study suggests that a child can be traumatised by any traumatic experience that they experience, and that any change in their brain chemistry could lead to a return to childhood.
He also notes that the children in the study who were being rehomed, or were being returned to a caregiver, were not being traumatized at all.
“This study shows that if you’re a child and you’ve experienced a traumatic event that you haven’t yet been able to heal, you’re still at risk for a long period of time,” Oterholm said, adding that the study was only designed to look at the symptoms of trauma, not the underlying cause of the trauma.
Oberholm added that if a child is being reholstered or is being returned back to a caretaker, it is important to make sure that the caregiver is able to identify the underlying trauma and help them to move forward in healing.
“If there’s a problem, they need to know what to do to get the child to a safe place,” he said.