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How can a severely traumatized child recover?

answered 10:32 PM EST, Thu August 22, 2013
anonymous anonymous
How likely is it that a child with complex PTSD from some really bad traumatic abuse for the first 7 years of his life can make a full recovery (to about 90%) or so by the time he is an adult? This is regarding a fostering and adoption scenario and regarding making reasonable expectations. It wont’ change that we love him and will raise him anyway.

Dr. Ari Hahn Says...

Dr. Ari Hahn A. Hahn

First off, I would like to apologize for the delay in posting this answer. Truth be said, I actually had an answer the moment I received the question but technical glitches and scheduling prevented by posting the answer until now. I don't want you to think that the delay was caused by my considering a question of less urgency. This is an a most important question even though in some sense it is difficult to answer.

From a very important perspective your question is almost irrelevant. You ask about the likelihood of a traumatized child of making a full recovery. Although I do not intend to present a lecture on statistics, I do need you to understand what's wrong with the question since that will open up the door for a satisfying answer.

The answer of the likelihood of anybody fulfilling any other eventuality is based on the percentage of people who fulfilled the eventuality. In other words, if a doctor says that Joe has an 80% chance of having a heart attack in the next year, what it actually means that if I had 100 people and I chose one person randomly from that 100 persons I would have an 80% chance of choosing somebody who will have a heart attack within the next year. The percentage is really only applicable to a randomly chosen person from a large sample of people. Once chose chosen then you might examine his genetic makeup and find that he has a gene that protects them from heart attacks. Obviously the likelihood of him getting a heart attack will then change.

Therefore if I were to give you a statistic that says 60% or 80% of the children who are abused on a serious and ongoing basis before the age of seven will suffer from psychological disorders in adulthood that even if it were a true it would say nothing about any particular singular child. The circumstances for that particular child will be much more important in determining the quality of a child's life than the population from which a child was taken.

Most scientific and research evidence points to the idea that children who have not had a significant positive care taking experience prior to the age of seven will show particular difficulties expressing and accepting love. The technical name for this is Reactive Attachment Disorder. If a child has been traumatized to the point that he or she cannot trust anybody under normal circumstances and the child might merit the label of Reactive Attachment Disorder and the likelihood of living a normal life is extremely diminished.

However, there is only one reparative cure for children who have been so severely traumatized that they do not know how to receive or give love. That is to give them an unconditional love and an unconditional support. The more you give the child love in spite of his or her inability to reciprocate, the greater the chances that the child will recover from the complex trauma that defined the early years.

There will be very difficult times. Of course, there are difficult times with all children, but with most children the parents have some expressions of love to fall back on. You will need to gain strength from a belief that each expression of love that you show the child, you are raising the probability of recovery, which will be expressed when he or she knows how to show love.



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Page last updated Aug 22, 2013

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