The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Experts warn of trauma

Lily Smith
Iowa City Community School District Health Services Coordinator Susie Poulton (third from left) speaks during the WorldCanvass: Resilience Over Trauma event in the Recital Hall of the Voxman Music Building on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. Important advances are being made in the recognition and treatment of health issues related to adverse childhood experiences, many of them led by physicians and researchers at the University of Iowa. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

By Madeleine Neal

[email protected]

Although a child’s environment might be traumatic, resiliency is the key to a successful future, according to mental-health and social-work experts.
A series of panels discussed resilience over childhood trauma in the Voxman Music Building on Monday evening.

The three-part discussion was hosted by “WorldCanvass,” which is produced by UI International Programs and puts on events monthly.

The discussion began with the impact that trauma has on brain development and behavior.

Corinne Peek-Asa, a UI professor of occupational & environmental health, described childhood adversity as an event “so traumatic” to a child that it threatens her or his development.

Childhood trauma, she said, can refer to abuse, neglect, and family disruption.

“It’s not normal stress,” she said. “[It’s] something persistent.”

Peek-Asa noted there is a strong relationship between early deaths and adverse childhood experiences.

“[We need to] address housing and poverty issues,” she said. “[We need to] find children with [these] issues and build [their] resiliency.”

The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, reported approximately 37 percent of children in Iowa live in low-income families, in contrast to the national average of 44 percent.

“Trauma cuts across class and race, low-income children, youth and their families and children,” the center said on its website.

Michael Flaum, a UI clinical professor of psychiatry, said trauma can cause relatively minor stresses to be seen as distress.

“We need that environmental input to hone [in on] what is already there from genetics,” he said.

Yvonne Farley, a UI clinical assistant professor of social work, said many of these “stresses” are specific to children.

She said that can result in children not developing the proper “clusters” of resiliency skills.

To develop the skills, children need an alternative experience of “what health looks like.”

But despite growing environmental stresses, Farley said, developing the skills is more manageable now than it once was.

The discussion also addressed the effect trauma can have on physical and mental health, child welfare, education, and communities.

Helena Laroche, a UI assistant professor of internal medicine, said chronic adverse childhood experiences are related to illnesses seen in adulthood.

Adults who experience childhood trauma, she said, are about 1.6 times more likely to be obese and may shorten their lifespans by almost 20 years.

“On mental-health side [of childhood trauma], [there can be] learning and behavior problems,” she said. “It is really profound the impact this can have on peoples’ lives over time.”

Laroche said doctors should address a patient’s social history.

“When your whole system is [deregulated] like that, all sorts of things can go wrong,” she said. “They [social histories] affect how you got to the health you’re in now.”

Additionally, Susie Poulton, a health-services coordinator for the Iowa City School District, said the effects of trauma can affect a child’s learning and affect a child’s relationships.

“[Some children] come to school and [are] dealing with the effects of their trauma,” she said.

Because of this, Poulton said, schools need to work toward finding the “root of the problem” and teach children good coping skills.

Sensitive care practices and trauma information are available on the UI campus, at the UI Hospitals & Clinics, and in Johnson County.

Resmiye Oral, a UI clinical professor of pediatrics, said community factors are very influential in overcoming childhood trauma.

“We started recognizing that childhood trauma and ongoing trauma through life played a significant role in all types of functional areas of our lives,” she said. “[We want to] focus on resiliency rather than trauma.”

Armeda Wojciak, a UI assistant professor of marital & family therapy, said she is encouraged by the statewide interest in resiliency over childhood trauma.

“Across the state, there is much interest in this,” she said. “[We’re looking at] how we can best serve the needs of the schools and the children in our area.”

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