It is an unusual phenomenon when a socially and medically relevant term such as toxic stress is defined by the potential response that can manifest from its host. Traumatic experiences create a mindset that causes the stress response system to become stimulated to the point of malfunction. When this exposure becomes consistent and is of extreme potency, the quality of a child's social and academic trajectory is heavily influenced (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2014). In many cases, brain activities and behaviors of children under the heavy hood of trauma mirror those of chemically induced damage. True of recreational drugs, prescription medication, and environmental hazards such as lead, neurotoxic substances can produce the same developmental delays (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2006) found in outcomes from previously described experiences. According to Berger (2018), memory functions, regulation, and metacognition, all of which are affected by toxic stress levels play key roles in a child's academic achievement.
In an almost haphazardly fashion, it was discovered that an initial incorrect medical diagnosis stemming from an inconsistency in the observation or child behavior (Kaplow, Saxe, Putnam, Pynoos, & Leiberman 2006) can alter prescriptions for therapeutic decisions, medications and classroom strategies. A potentially devastating downward spiral can be the result. The example of a 36-month-old boy we will address as "E" comes to mind. "E" was diagnosed with attention deficit, and hyperactivity disorders (personal reference, Hamilton, 2015). This was based on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social/Emotional (Squires, Bricker & Twombly, 2002) completed by the child's biological mother. What the assessment and "E's" mother did not reveal was the child's exposure to constant toxic stress that included neglect, sexual and physical abuse and malnourishment. At this point, we were discussing the possibility of removing "E" from the program due to our inability to adequately meet his needs. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2014) concurs with the theory that our multidisciplinary team was in a state of desperation due in part to the implementation of strategies based on an inaccurate assessment.
Children like "E" are a dime a dozen. Similar stories used to keep me up at night worrying about who may potentially be absent in the morning. Interest in this topic is unfortunately out of necessity as trauma is evident in children's lives regardless of setting.
Berger K. S. (2018). The developing person through childhood. (8th ed). New York, N. Y. Worth Publishers
Kaplow, J. B., Saxe, G. N., Putnam, F. W., Pynoos, R. S., & Lieberman, A. (2006). The long-term consequences of early childhood trauma: A case study and discussion. Psychology, 69(4) 362-375
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2009). Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain. Working Paper #3 Retrieved from
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2006). Early exposure to toxic stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain. Working Paper #4 Retrieved from
Squires, J., Bricker, D., & Twombly, E. (2002). The ASQ:SE user's guide: For the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social/Emotional. Paul H. Brookes Publishing