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“Toxic Stress” in Young Children

img_0326Doug Davies’ contribution to work with young children is featured in the most recent “Infant Crier”, the newsletter of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.

“This special edition about Doug is exactly the message we are spreading throughout the community. It’s no accident that he found a way to collaborate with us and support this work. Wow! I’m truly moved and inspired,” said Regena Nelson, co-chair of the ISAAC Early Childhood & Education Task Force, and Professor and Chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies, Western Michigan University.

Some highlights from Doug’s writing featured in “The Infant Crier”:

“Created by ongoing severe environmental stressors such as chronic trauma, abuse, and neglect, “toxic stress” is an internal response to even mild stressors that has been shaped by trauma over time. It is a biological adaptation to frequent experiences of threat and high arousal.”

“When a young child is exposed to toxic stress over time, the constant secretion of the stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine leads to epigenetic changes in the HPA [hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal] system. This is the process underlying over-arousal and reactivity to triggers and mild stressors we observe in chronically-traumatized children.”

“Behaviorally, this translates to hyperarousal, hypervigilance, overreactions to even minor stressors, and tendencies to “act without thinking” based on fear and anxiety.”

Comments by Julie Ribaudo, LMSW, IMH E®, U-M School of Social Work:

“Here we see Doug’s brilliance in listening to and probing the meaning of aggressive behavior of young children exposed to violence. Even before the benefit of brain science to substantiate aggression as often reactive, Doug knew to listen and observe very carefully – with the aim of understanding and helping a child gain distance, psychologically, from what they had endured, and locating the trauma in the past rather than in the present. Profoundly empathic, he also worked compassionately with parents, teachers, and other professionals to understand the child as well. He taught the rest of us to do the same.”

– Rochelle Habeck & Regena Nelson, co-chairs, ISAAC Early Childhood & Education Task Force