‘Developmental Trauma’ is often used to describe childhood traumas or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs include events commonly recognized as traumatic like the death of a parent, physical or sexual abuse, and neglect. However, they also include other major stressors like witnessing parental substance use, having a parent who was incarcerated, or parents getting a divorce.
“Children who experience a higher number of ACEs are at a greater risk of experiencing mental and physical health challenges throughout their lifespan.”
Interestingly, not all of these children meet the diagnostic criteria for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is largely because this diagnosis was meant to describe symptoms in adults. While some children can be diagnosed with PTSD many who are suffering as a result of past trauma do not. This forces clinicians to force a square peg into a round hole, so to speak, by giving a child another diagnosis that may not accurately explain what is going on.
We are forced to diagnose children who are clearly displaying certain behaviors and symptoms as a direct result of chronic and complex trauma with things like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorder. A past professor of mine called these “trashcan diagnoses.” “We have to bill under something so we just chuck these kids into the can,” she said.