Abuse - Consequences
The last Newsletters have described the impact of abuse imposed on children. In summary these include damage such as:
- Broad scale reduction in the neural density caused by the lack of appropriate stimulation at the pertinent times and the corresponding, excess pruning.
- A deficit when it comes to forming memories because the very part of the brain that creates memories the hippocampus is reduced in size by up to 10%. It is the hippocampus that decides what to remember and distributes this across the cerebrum.
- The lack of neural density in the frontal lobes estimate at being as much a 20%.
- The scarcity of neurons means the material to build memories is less than children who have had secure childhoods.
- The increased sensitivity of the amygdala creates a hypersensitive individual.
There are plenty of resources that describe the various types of abuse none better than that found on the Department’s Student Wellbeing policy under indicators of abuse and neglect. The following is a very short description of the types of abuse that are recognised:
- Physical - This is the use of intentional force against a child’s body or an unwanted invasion of their physical space. This is generally:
- Holding down
- Exaggerated tickling
- Pulling hair
- Twisting ear
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse
Forms of emotional abuse are:
- Attacking the worth of the child by rejecting them, terrorizing or isolating them.
- Telling the child that they are stupid, un-loveable or unwanted.
- Being overly harsh in criticizing the child.
- Punishing the child when they become emotional – don’t be a baby, etc. or when they show no emotion when it would be appropriate to do so.
- When the love of a parent is conditional on their behaviour (I will love you if …)
This abuse is when an adult or older adolescent uses the child for their sexual gratification or for financial profit of the person committing the act. This can include:
- Unwanted touching or penetration of the sexual organs.
- Adults exposing their own genitals to a child.
- Exposure to inappropriate sexual experiences or information (i.e. Pornography).
Other forms of Abuse that are not recognized by the Department include:
- Intellectual abuse which occurs when a child is placed in a situation where they are asked to perform a task they are developmentally incapable of successfully achieving. Consider this abuse in regards to academic testing to identify rankings! It also occurs when children’s performances are compared in any discipline
- Spiritual abuse occurs is when the parents put themselves above the child. The child must ‘worship’ the parent. A contrary form of spiritual abuse occurs when the parents put the child above themselves. The child becomes the focus of their devotion, they can do no wrong. These children never learn to take responsibility. In the first instance the parent knows best and you just do as you’re told. In the latter form the parent will not see any faults in the child’s behaviour and so they never get the natural consequences when they make a wrong choice.
The point is that children who have been subjected to neglect and abuse live with a real, imposed disability which causes them to exhibit a range of dysfunctional behaviours that can impact their academic success and social-emotional well-being. As their teacher, you play a critical role in their lives. It is important to recognize these behaviours and take steps to address them in a sensitive and effective manner. Previously I have talked about children who have adopted behaviours that were functional in a dysfunctional home but whose behaviours become dysfunctional when they find themselves in a functional classroom.
Rather than describe specific behaviours I will focus on the broad issues that drive those dysfunctional actions. One of the most common is the difficulty children who have experienced abuse have with their ability to regulate their emotions. These children may be prone to outbursts, aggression, and other disruptive behaviours and when a crisis is over they will take much more time to regain an emotional state where they can participate in the lesson. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment where students feel comfortable expressing their emotions.
Another common problem exhibited by children who have experienced abuse is the difficulty with the establishment of positive social relationships. The most critical undertaking children of all ages is to acquire the social behaviours that allow them to participate in their community; rejection creates more damage than any other assault! These kids are more likely to exhibit overt aggressiveness towards their classmates or withdraw from the class. These kids will struggle to make or retain friendships.
Critically these children are likely to struggle academically. Because they are hypervigilant they may have difficulty focusing. If the abuse is ongoing they may miss school due to injuries or appointments with social workers, and may struggle to keep up with coursework.
Finally they can experience a range of physical symptoms, including chronic pain, headaches, and fatigue which will impact on their attendance or in the least their level of engagement.
It is important for teachers to be aware of the signs of child abuse and to take appropriate action if they suspect a student is being abused. Teachers are mandated, through Child Protection laws to report suspected abuse or neglect. All schools are familiar with these requirements but when in doubt it is important to make the report.
Our whole purpose is to support teachers when dealing with these kids. Our model of structure, expectations built in an atmosphere of positive relationships is key. In doing so you create a safe and supportive environment for all students. You promote positive behaviour, creating a sense of belonging, and providing opportunities for students to feel valued and respected.