JAN 25, 2018 3:42 AM PST

How Early Trauma Affects Adult Health

Child abuse, of any kind, is a horrific obstacle for children to experience growing up. It can leave them with profound issues of trust, mental health problems and can even impact their risk of developing illnesses as an adult. New research from the University of Utah shows that there is a correlation between early childhood abuse and neglect and problems in adulthood with social relationships. There is also a connection between early abuse and academic achievement.

To assess the levels of adult impact of early maltreatment the researchers used data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, which has followed several hundred children since the 1970s. The team in Utah separated out data from 267 individuals between the ages of 32 and 34. The Minnesota data is essential because it includes feedback from teachers, follow-up interviews with participants and standardized testing. Two specific age groups were analyzed, 0-5yrs and 6 to 17.5 years.

The research stands to paint a better picture of abuse and adult outcomes because rather than relying on recollections of study volunteers decades after their childhood experience, the data on academic performance and relationships were created in real-time, as it happened.

Lee Raby, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah and co-author of the study set out to answer two questions: Does early abuse result in problems that continue into adulthood and do these issues remain problematic or weaken over time. He explained, "It is not a controversial statement to say abuse and neglect can have harmful consequences. This study adds to that by showing that these effects are long term and don't weaken with time. They persist from childhood across adolescence and into adulthood."

Because the database of testing, interviews, and observations from teachers was so rich in detail from the childhood and adolescence of the participants, the link between early abuse and adult experiences could be established in a much stronger way. The findings showed that the experience of childhood trauma, from abuse or neglect, had a significant impact on social relationships and academics. Compared to similarly aged peers who had not been victims of abuse, the children who had experienced maltreatment and neglect performed at a lower level academically and reported more trouble forming romantic and social relationships.

Even when correcting for factors like gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status were accounted for, there was still a positive correlation to impaired social relationships well into adulthood, and these difficulties did not get better as the participants got older. There was not a correlation between later abuse and difficulties in adulthood, and the effect on academic achievement did not persist when confounding factors were adjusted, but the fact remains that while children are often seen as resilient in the face of trauma, those that are abused are still at a high risk for problems later in life.

Raby summarized the work, stating, "The harmful effect of early abuse and neglect was just as important when we were looking at outcomes at age 32 years as when we looked at outcomes at age 5. These findings add more evidence for the importance of identifying high-risk families and attempting to intervene before experiences of abuse and neglect occur " The video below talks about a similar study, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which showed similar results, take a look.

Sources: University of Utah, Journal, Child Development, Social Work Helper

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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