Understanding Brain Development in Children from Trauma

The Honestly Adoption Podcast- Season 7, Episode 62

Why?  What is going on with my child? Why does my child behave like this?  What can I do to parent my child who just doesn’t seem to “get it?”  Is there hope for my child?

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On this episode of The Honestly Adoption Podcast, Mike welcomes Dr. Gary Feldman from the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center to share some insights from his work with children at their International Adoption Clinic.

Listen Now:


Notes and Quotes:

“It’s helpful to zoom out and look at the big picture.”

Why and how did these children end up in orphanages or foster homes in the first place?  Let’s look at some of those reasons:  There may be mental health predispositions, drug and alcohol exposure in-utero, malnourishment, disease and illness…also, the child’s birth experience, was the child neglected, abused, and how were they removed from birth parents.  These, and more, all contribute to what is going on with the child now.

What can a parent do to be ready for the child(ren) they will bring into their home?
  • Prepare for what you know
  • Prepare for what you don’t know
  • Responsive and Pro-Active vs. Reactive parenting
  • Understand Attachment issues
  • Anticipate possible exposure to traumas like physical or sexual abuse (especially with older children from orphanages)

“The more you understand a worse case scenario, the more informed you can be, which means you are more prepared to offset difficult behaviors.”

  • Become Trauma-informed
  • Understand the basic concept of Behavioral Pheno-type:  There is a common overlap in certain conditions and symptoms (i.e.  RAD and FASD have a 50% overlap in behavioral pheno-type)
  • Understand Executive Skills Deficits: One of the common challenges many adopted children have are executive skill deficits.  Much of this is from damage to the frontal lobe.  They just don’t have good judgement and can’t join the dots.  They can’t learn from their mistakes.
What about a child who seems to go “off the rails” almost overnight, after a long period of everything seeming “fine?”
  • Look back to genetic markers/mental health disorders
  • Puberty is hard on many kids, even in ideal circumstances
  • Teens beginning to seek their roots, plus puberty, plus mental health histories can become a perfect storm
 What can a parent to do help their Primary Care Physician (PCP) or therapist to understand more about their child?
  • Have realistic expectations of your PCP
    • It is almost unreasonable to expect a PCP to understand a special condition.
    • In most cases practitioners want to help, but they aren’t “specialists” in this area so they may need more education and information.
  • Seek out someone who does have the expertise
What hope is there for parents in the trench who are “victims” of their child’s behavior?
  • Kids DO change over time.
  • The outcome will probably be better than you think!  It isn’t just a linear progression, improvement is almost always is on a curve for the better!
  • Be meticulous to make sure you assess the child and intervene early
  • Put all your effort in
  • Your child’s traumatic past does not define their future

“By far, the majority of outcomes for children who are adopted are positive.”

“If you have knowledge, it changes how you parent your child.”

Resources and Links:

Dr. Gary Feldman serves as Medical Director of the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, in Long Beach, CA, as well as the lead physician in the Sleep Disorder, Behavioral Disorder, and the Stramski Center International Adoption Clinic.  He is a member of the American Medical Association, Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and he is a coveted speaker on a variety of topics including pediatric sleep disorders and international adoption.

Question: Have you struggled to understand why your child behaves the way he does? Let us know what questions you still have or encourage others here with hope you have found along the way! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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