Posttraumatic stress disorder in infancy and early childhood
Hatton, Leah Jean
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Traditionally, it was believed that young children did not experience long-term negative effects resulting from a traumatic experience. Many professionals continue to assume that the effects of trauma on infants (0-3 years) are transient and that intervention is unnecessary. However, research has shown that infants and young children can develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Scheeringa, Peebles, Cook, & Zeanah, 2001). Symptoms consistent with older children and adults (i.e., re-experiencing, avoidance/emotional numbing, and hyperarousal) have been found with infants and young children exposed to trauma. The purpose of this dissertation was to better understand the nature of trauma in early childhood using a multidimensional approach. Three studies were conducted to determine the effects of trauma and PTSD on young children. Study 1 considered the effectiveness of using the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL), a popular measure of children’s adjustment, to screen for PTSD symptoms in a sample of young children. Results suggested that the PTSD subscale of the CBCL correctly identified 71% of children with PTSD. Study 2 examined the role that potentially traumatic events, as well as family and child characteristics, play in the development of symptoms of PTSD by surveying a community sample. Results suggested that certain events were more likely to be associated with symptoms of PTSD and that children with younger mothers and higher rates of internalizing problems were more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD. Study 3 explored the effects of trauma on young children’s emotional, physiological and relational functioning, and was conducted in two phases: Phase I considered PTSD symptom expression, physiological stress-response (i.e., salivary cortisol) and quality of attachment in children recruited from a community sample; and Phase II considered PTSD symptoms, quality of attachment and maternal psychological distress in the development of PTSD in a clinical sample of young children. Results found that in Phase I PTSD symptoms were not associated with either cortisol level or quality of attachment, although effect sizes were moderate. Phase II results found a direct and significant association between quality of attachment and PTSD symptoms. A non-significant but moderate effect size was found for the link between maternal psychological distress and PTSD symptoms. Findings are discussed with regards to their implications for future research and clinical practice.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteePerry, Bruce; Martin, Stephanie; Gordon, Bruce; Saucier, Deborah M.
quality of attachment
posttraumatic stress disorder