Post-Traumatic Syndromes in Childhood and Adolescence: A Handbook of Research and Practice

By Vittoria Ardino | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
Neuropsychological Underpinnings of
PTSD in Children and Adolescents

Helen Z. MacDonald, Jennifer J. Vasterling, and
Ann Rasmusson


Introduction

Approximately 15% to 20% of children and adolescents experience a traumatic event over the course of childhood (Breslau, 2002; Brown, 2002). Exposure to extreme stress can result in a broad array of cognitive, affective, and psychological sequelae that, when perpetuated, are associated with the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Attention and memory abnormalities are so central to PTSD that cognitive disturbances have been integrated into the diagnostic criteria. Specifically, hypervigilance and concentration impairments can be conceptualized as attentional abnormalities, whereas reexperiencing symptoms and psychogenic amnesia can be understood as over- and underactive aspects, respectively, of trauma memory.

For children, these neuropsychological abnormalities have the potential for causing major functional difficulties in academic and interpersonal settings. Cognitive dysfunction in children and adolescents with PTSD takes on a special significance due to the developmental stages involved. From a psychosocial perspective, children and adolescents are at critical periods of social, academic, and cognitive development, which may be particularly vulnerable to any cognitive abnormalities. From a neurobiological perspective, the brains of children and adolescents are not yet fully developed and may be expected to show a recovery course following trauma exposure different from that of adults (De Bellis, 1999 a and b). This chapter aims to summarize and critically review the literature on neuropsychological functioning in children and adolescents with PTSD, highlighting the specific neuropsychological correlates of PTSD within

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