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Post-Traumatic Stress Caused by Early Childhood Neglect

By April 26, 2019May 21st, 2021Blog


Early childhood neglect is a form of child abuse that can lead to lifelong consequences. 

Early child neglect is defined as any confirmed or suspected act by a parent or other caregiver that deprives a child of their basic needs, resulting in physical or psychological harm. Younger children typically have higher rates of neglect, and girls tend to suffer more from neglect in comparison to boys. Some common examples of early childhood neglect include lack of supervision, abandonment, failure to attend to psychological and/or emotional needs, and failure to provide an education, medical care, nourishment, clothing and/or shelter. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were approximately 672,000 maltreated children in the U.S. in 2016. Seven children per 1,000 were reported victims of early childhood neglect. While reported rates of other types of child maltreatment have been declining significantly in the past several years, child neglect has sadly not. Among all maltreated children, the proportion with reported neglect increased from 49 to 75 percent from 1990 to 2016. Child neglect is a serious issue that needs more attention than it currently receives. 

People who have suffered through early childhood neglect tend to have lower cognitive and language scores and more behavioral problems. Additionally, they also tend to have poor impulse control, social withdrawal, problems with coping and regulating emotions, low self-esteem, poor intellectual functioning, and academic achievement and pathological behaviors such as tics, tantrums, tendency to steal and inflict self-punishment.  

Anyone who suspects a child who may be suffering from early childhood neglect, there are warning signs to watch for.  

Symptoms of Early Childhood Neglect

Children suffering from childhood neglect tend to suffer from medical conditions such as malnutrition. These children also may appear dirty and unhealthy, wear clothing inappropriate for the weather and lack appropriate supervision. 

Additionally, there are some signs to look out for to help determine if a child is suffering from early childhood neglect. These signs include: 

  • Frequently absent from school 
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs 
  • Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
  • Steals or begs for food and/or money 

Additionally, if the parents of a child act indifferent toward the child, irrational, depressed, or abuse alcohol or other drugs, they may be neglecting their child. Many parents who neglect their children do not do it intentionally. Typically, parents neglect their child because of either past trauma, lack of knowledge, extreme stress such as poverty, sickness or disability, or drug and/or alcohol abuse. Regardless of the causes and/or symptoms, early childhood neglect will lead to trauma. 


Trauma is defined as an emotional and psychological response to an experience or event that is extremely distressing and stressful, such as early childhood neglect. 

Following any distressing or life-threatening event, trauma can set in. People who have survived a trauma, of any kind, may develop emotional issues, such as sadness, extreme anxiety, anger, survivor’s guilt, or even Post-traumatic stress (PTSD). They may have ongoing problems with their ability to sleep or stay asleep, suffer from physical pain, have trouble with their personal and professional relationships, and have issues with low self-esteem. 

Trauma research outlines several healthy ways of coping, such as avoiding alcohol and drugs, seeing loved ones regularly, exercising, sleeping, and other methods of self-care. There are people who are able to overcome trauma, offering inspiration to others who have had life-altering negative experiences. However, in many instances, people who suffer from trauma will need to reach out for professional help in order to regain control of their life. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience, such as early childhood neglect. While not everyone who experiences neglect suffers from PTSD, those who do are by no means weak; PTSD is not a sign of weakness. 

There are three categories of symptoms associated with PTSD which include: 

  • Reliving the event that caused their trauma through thoughts and memories that remind them of the trauma they experienced. This can result in feelings of isolation and detachment from friends and family, as well as a general loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy. Additionally, reliving the event that caused their trauma will result in extreme emotional or physical reactions such as chills, heart palpitations, or panic when faced with reminders of the event. 
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma including people, thoughts and memories, situations, and places that remind them of their trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from friends and family and can even result in the loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed. 
  • Being on guard or hyper-aroused at times, excessive emotions, difficulty relating to others, such as showing or feeling affection, difficulty sleeping, irritability, increased temper, inability to concentrate and easily startled. There are also some physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, muscle tension, hyperventilating, nausea, and diarrhea. 

PTSD, when left untreated, can lead to a variety of serious symptoms, including: 

  • Anger management issues: Some people experience instances of recurring anxiety and stress which can lead to outbursts of rage and anger, potentially resulting in child or spousal abuse or even public violence.
  • Loneliness: Since PTSD can potentially make a person very difficult to be around and is often undiagnosed, individuals tend to end up isolated and alone.
  • Severe depression: Depression is always a risk with PTSD. Many sufferers will demonstrate suicidal thoughts or tendencies while in the midst of a PTSD episode.

Those who experience these symptoms, especially children who have suffered through early childhood neglect, require professional help if they find themselves unable to gain control of their lives and continue to suffer from PTSD symptoms for longer than one month.

Early Intervention and Treatment is Important 

Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of a youth suffering from early childhood neglect. Children’s bodies and minds are still developing, making it critical to remove them from their traumatizing, unhealthy environments as quickly as possible. Additionally, uncharacteristic behaviors become increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more powerful. The traumatic events these children experience will affect them for the rest of their lives; it is important for them to get successful treatment as soon as possible to prevent their lives from being affected forever. 

 Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, and similar mental health diagnoses. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing an individual from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced.

Regardless of how bad things may seem, there is hope and there is always someone available to help a person through difficult times.  Contact ART International to learn more or to find an ART therapist near you.