Not only was April Child Abuse Prevention Month but it was also Autism Awareness Month. Research has indicated that autism has increased substantially in the past few decades. Currently, experts estimate that 3 - 6 children out of every 1,000 will have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Males are four times more likely to have ASD than females.
If you have ever spoken with someone who was sexually abused as a child, you recognize its significant consequences to the person’s self-image, ability to have healthy relationships, behavior, learning capacity and overall emotional health. Their stories devastate us, but seem to be so prevalent in our culture. Moreover, when you add the number of children that are trafficked for reasons of sex slavery or child pornography, it is beyond difficult to think of how many children are victimized.
As we know, teenagers experience multiple developmental changes. It is also a time of life when cumulative effects of abuse and neglect can emerge more strongly. This is true because the brain lags behind the body in development, especially in the areas that allow teenagers to reason and think logically. Most teenagers act impulsively at times (using a lower area of their brain—their “gut reaction”) because their frontal lobe is not yet mature. Since impulsive behavior, poor decision-making, and increased risk-taking are part of the normal teenage experience, it may be difficult to discern whether teenage behavior is due to abuse or neglect or normal impulsiveness.
Before I begin this post, I want to acknowledge yet another random violent act in Boston, a tragedy for such a long-standing and popular event as the Boston Marathon. I have been writing about child abuse, and in this unprovoked attack, an eight-year-old child was brutally murdered by the bomb. I do send our thoughts and prayers to the families of all those who were killed or wounded. I also appreciate the many professionals and others who were unselfish and heroic in helping so many people to safety.
Like no other time in history, we can measure the impact of child abuse and neglect in early childhood. New brain imaging technologies and some human growth studies have shed light on the impact of neglect and abuse on brain development in children. These diagnostic tools teach us about the critical nature of early intervention.