Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Priming the Pump. Academic Consequences of Psychological Abuse

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Priming the Pump. Academic Consequences of Psychological Abuse

Article excerpt

Why do some Latino students lag behind, turning assignments in late, failing to attend to details in their work, or losing track of what they are doing?

Sometimes they are inadequately prepared. Other times they might have Attention Deficit Disorder or other learning disability or both. Occasionally they do not take the work seriously or simply don't care. But there is another significant possibility: they have suffered psychological abuse - an early childhood trauma - that affected their brain development, behavior, outlook and ways of coping. How a student handles the pressures of school and work later starts at birth.

Here is how early childhood trauma works:

A child needs consistent care and attention to his needs, a routine and a secure attachment to a caregiver since birth. Since the brain is developing during early childhood at its most rapid pace in the lifespan, the absence of any of these components spells trouble. If early needs for food, attention and safety are not met consistently, the child has difficulty trusting others. A routine assures predictability, so the child whose caregivers don't establish one is often anxious and irritable. And without a consistent, loving caregiver, the child doesn't attach well to others and later will be more likely to have trouble with relationships and authority. His self-confidence is typically low, so he is more proneto being bullied or later becoming a bully.

And there are problems with emotional and behavioral self-control. It can be challenging for them to control their anger or curb impulses. Without any intervention to change the course of ongoing (albeit deficient) brain development, the child ends up lacking the capacity to maintain composure and good performance under pressure. And school is pressure. From the critical time of third grade all the way through higher education, social and intellectual challenges increase, but the psychologically abused student's ability to cope doesn't keep pace. The result: bouts of anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness. Coping by using alcohol and drugs, often to excess. Tangling with the law. And falling behind in classes or dropping out of school altogether

Teachers in secondary and higher education need to learn about psychological abuse because it is more pervasive than the well-known PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - the mental condition that results from unusual external events like war, murder, fires, and bank holdups. …

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