What does childhood trauma have to do with literacy rates? Actually, a lot. Continued research points to the physiological effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on children. These effects, if left unaddressed can then extend into adulthood. Oklahoma ranks number 1 in the nation for children affected by adverse childhood experiences, according to America’s Health Rankings, 2016 edition.
The Potts Family Foundation recently hosted a local one-day conference to spotlight the impact of ACEs and discuss hopeful paths forward. National and local experts explained how growing up in an environment of long-term, toxic stress impacts the development of organs, including the brain, on a cellular level. In addition, children who are in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze have brains where the survival instinct takes over and reduces their immediate capacity to develop more and stronger pathways to other parts of the brain necessary for reading and school, among other things.
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2015): “This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.” Prolonged trauma can decrease the volume of the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive functions such as short-term memory, emotional regulation, and higher cognitive functions, according to the Children’s Bureau.
The answer lies in children having at least one engaged, stable adult in their lives who can help them navigate the stress. Trauma-informed care and schools can change an adults reaction to a struggling child from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” The latter opens the door for rebuilding pathways for learning and life.
For more information about the Raising Resilient Oklahomans summit hosted by Potts Family Foundation and to see a list of future showings of the helpful documentary Resilience, visit OK 25 by 25.