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Understanding Childhood Trauma: Types, Effects, and Tests

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 6/21/2015

Childhood trauma can affect a child psychologically and impact her behaviorally, socially and academically. Learn about the tests used to gauge the level of trauma.

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    Types of Childhood Trauma

    During childhood, children are exposed to stressful experiences. But some children are more successful at dealing with traumatic experiences, which have When Negative Childhood Traumas Happen lasting effects. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explains that two types of trauma can affect children: one-episode psychic trauma and repeated trauma.

    With one-episode psychic trauma, the traumatic event only occurs once in the child's life, such as a death of a loved one. Experiencing one traumatic event can seriously affect the child, resulting in Type I post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The child can have problems sleeping at night and may have nightmares. The child may become pessimistic and hypervigilant. Visual hallucinations can occur, in which the child re-experiences the traumatic event.

    If a child experiences repeated trauma, the trauma occurs multiple times, such as with sexual abuse. Children who deal with repeated trauma can have Type II PTSD. Those with Type II PTSD have the same symptoms as patients with Type I PTSD, as well sickening anticipation of the reoccurring trauma. Repeated trauma can lead to emotional numbness, in which the child becomes emotionally detached and develops emotional problems, such as sadness and anger.

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    Effects

    When a child suffers from one-episode psychic trauma or repeated trauma, she can have behavioral problems. For example, the child can display immature behavior or have a regression of behavior. The child may also have panic attacks. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry points out that problems can arise from untreated trauma, such as self-harm, anxiety and violent behavior. Childhood trauma can result in re-victimization during the adulthood, in which the person does not protect herself from harm.

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    Tests for Childhood Trauma, Depression and Anxiety

    If a child's behavior or changes in emotion indicate trauma, a psychological assessment may be done to determine its extent. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, a five-minute test for children ages 12 and over, examines the type of trauma that the child experienced. The questionnaire consists of 28 questions and can be done one-on-one with a child or in a group setting. Nova Southeastern University points out that the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire has questions about sexual abuse, emotional abuse and physical neglect, but not about death or illness.

    As part of the testing, the examiner may include tests for mood and anxiety. For example, the Chilhood Depression Inventory, a 15-minute test for 7- to 17-year-old children, looks at mood and interpersonal behavior. Nova Southeastern University explains that the 27 questions examine how depression affects functioning and social interactions.

    Another option is the Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale, which is given to children between ages 6 and 19. The test takes 10 to 15 minutes, and has 37 yes or no questions about anxiety. Once the tests have been scored, the school counselor and teacher can determine how to best help the child.

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