Literacy 4-6

Systems Change
Literacy 4-6 > Factors > Adverse Experiences

Adverse Experiences

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The trauma that comes from experiencing adversity in childhood releases stress hormones that can lead to changes in the body and brain. These changes during this critical time of development can have negative consequences on academic achievement, including learning to read and write. However, it is possible that children's brains, which allow a high degree of neural reorganization or plasticity, can compensate for the changes, which may support recovery.

Main Ideas

Adverse experiences include:

  • Interpersonal experiences that occur between people (e.g., physical abuse, witnessing assault); and
  • Non-interpersonal experiences inflicted by some other source (e.g., a motor vehicle accident, a natural disaster).

The 2014 National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence found that 37.3% of youth experienced a physical assault, most often by siblings and peers, and 15.2% of children were maltreated by a caregiver. Overall, according to the 2012 U.S. National Survey of Children's Health, nearly half (46%) had at least one adverse experience, with 11% experiencing three or more. Additionally, Black children and other students of color often experience racial trauma in the form of implicit or explicit biases or discrimination, such as school disciplinary policies.

Adverse experiences can result in long-term changes to health, behavior, social skills, and brain structure and functioning that can have far-reaching negative impacts on academic outcomes. They may also result in additional trauma through the loss of Social Supports and school, neighborhood, or community Safety.

However, promising research into neuroplasticity has shown that children benefit from increased brain plasticity, as their brain processes seem to be less well organized than in adults. There is significant variability in children's paths to recovery from trauma, so more research in this area can contribute important insights into interventions and recovery.

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