Childhood trauma

Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) or childhood traumatic experience of any kind have been shown from many studies to not only interrupt the neurological development of a child but to carry through into adult life and has been linked to:

· risky health behaviors,

· chronic health conditions, including heart disease and cancer

· low life potential, and

· early death.

The question is then, what can we do to help the children that we know have been though a traumatic experience even birth trauma?

Dr Perry demonstrates that the brain develops from the base outwards. If there is any trauma in the early years this impacts on the development of these basal layers which make development in the higher layers restricted. Talk therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) have often been used to help children and adults can have a limited impact if the brain is stuck in the lower levels of functioning.

“The only way to move from these super-high anxiety states, to calmer more cognitive states, is rhythm,” he says. “Patterned, repetitive rhythmic activity: walking, running, dancing, singing, repetitive meditative breathing – you use brain stem-related somatosensory networks which make your brain accessible to relational (limbic brain) reward and cortical thinking.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is great if you have a developed frontal cortex – but we’re talking about a five year old kid who’s so scared to death most of the time that it’s shut down his frontal cortex ’cause he just saw his mother get shot,” Perry told an audience of therapists. “You’re going to do 20 sessions of CBT and expect change? That’s a fantasy.”

The list of repetitive, rhythmic regulations used for trauma by Dr. Perry, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Pat Ogden and others is remarkable. It includes singing, dancing, drumming, and most musical activities. It also relies on meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong, along with theater groups, walking, running, swinging, trampoline work, massage, equine grooming and other animal-assisted therapy.

Further reading about using rhythm to help childhood trauma:

Perry: Rhythm Regulates the Brain

Bruce Perry: Attachment and Developmental Trauma

ACE Study co-founders tell story on DVD — here’s an intro

The Greatest Study Never Told

Childhood adversity as a risk for cancer: findings from the 1958 British birth cohort study

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: About Adverse Childhood Experiences