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Abstract symptoms in traumatised children

Mr David Bird & Dr Louise Payne

Psychologists working as assessors dealing with victims of trauma can be confronted by a range of symptoms, some of which may be closely associated with the trauma. These would include victims of road traffic accidents who subsequently experience travel anxiety.

In some cases however the symptoms do not appear at all related to the index trauma. It can be difficult to discern the extent to which any psychological symptoms which are abstract (i.e. apparently unrelated to the index trauma) might be due to the trauma.

The issue with children, and in particular the under-tens, can be far more complicated, as there is at that stage a marked capacity to regression. This occurs when a child’s behaviour reverts to a previous developmental level, and can commonly be triggered by a trauma. Examples of regressive behaviours would include enuresis (bed-wetting), separation anxiety (bed-hopping) and thumb-sucking.

Conduct problems or disorders would not fall into this category unless the child had previously been particularly badly-behaved. It generally does not constitute a regression to a previous type of behaviour which would be considered a normal developmental stage, but a change to an atypical pattern of behaviour. The authors have found that episodes of regressive behaviour to an earlier developmental stage can commonly be attributed primarily to the index trauma, but that in cases where a child develops conduct problems, the causes tend to be multifactorial (including facing problems at home and / or at school) and it is rare for such problems to be due to the psychological effects of a road traffic accident.

More information about this and other matters can be obtained from David Bird. He operates several clinics each month throughout the UK.

Louise Payne operates clinics in Reading, Crawley and Slough.   

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