Understanding Developmental Trauma

Signs Babies Exhibit After Experiencing Trauma

  • Glossed-over eyes
  • Cross-eyes of divergent eyes
  • Total or partial inability to orient when confronted by new surroundings
  • Too little tone or too much tension in their muscles
  • Startle response to sound or movement
  • Jerky arms, legs and head
  • Involuntary shaking or tremors
  • Constant, weak or "absent" crying
  • High-pitched crying sounds
  • Inconsolable crying and crying without apparent cause
  • Hypersensitivity to near or direct touch
  • Desire to not be held
  • Falling asleep when over-stimulated
  • Inability to grasp
  • Nursing and feeing difficulties, arching backwards
  • Splaying hands
  • Excessive hiccups
  • Frequent gagging
  • Avoidance of eye-contact

Signs Older Children Exhibit After Experiencing Trauma

  • Hyperactivity
  • Coordination and balance problems
  • Gait problems
  • Toilet training challenges
  • Speech delays
  • Learning disabilities
  • Tantrums
  • Inappropriate aggression or timidity
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Response out of proportion to stimulus
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • Inability to ask for help
  • Rage towards parent(s) or others
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Health challenges like asthma and seizures
  • Harmful behavior towards siblings
  • Tactile defensiveness, desire to not be touched

Known Causes of Early Trauma

All of us have experienced some level of stress or trauma in our early life. The long-term impact of trauma is in proportion to the severity and length of the trauma, as well as extent to which it interferes with the child connecting with its parents. Any experience is less traumatic if accompanied by loving support and connection. 

  • Unwelcoming or fearful feelings at discovery of pregnancy
  • Stressful or abusive relationship between parents during pregnancy or after birth
  • Maternal stress, fear or depression during pregnancy or infancy
  • Child was not wanting for some part of pregnancy
  • Considered or attempted abortion
  • Biochemical stresses during pregnancy from nicotine, alcohol, pesticides, etc
  • Twin lost during pregnancy, including early pregnancy or during birth
  • Chemical induction of labor
  • Fetal monitors that are screwed into fetus' skull
  • Premature birth
  • NICU experience with all accompanying medical interventions
  • Unusually long or unusually fast labor
  • Being stuck during labor
  • Cord tightly wrapped around the neck
  • Near death experience or deprivation of oxygen
  • Medical interventions such a cesarean section, forceps or vacuum extraction
  • Anesthesia which breaks the contact between mom and baby
  • Separation from the mother after birth or for extended periods during infancy
  • Painful medical interventions such a heal sticks, spinal taps, etc
  • Maternal postpartum depression or strong anxiety
  • Being given up for adoption
  • Death in the family
  • Unresolved traumatic history of parents or ancestors , such as early abuse, loss of a parent, traumatic birth, or being given up for adoption
  • Hospitalization or surgery as an infant, including circumcision
  • Any particularly painful accident, injury or illness

Common Signs of Early Trauma in Adults

All of us have experienced early stress or trauma to one level or another. Unresolved early trauma can significantly interfere with our current daily life. As more recent traumatic events occur, they begin to layer on top of our early imprinting. In fact, our ability to recover from traumatic events as older children and adults is dependent on our level of resilience due to our early imprinting. 

Teens and adults can manifest any of the signs listed for children, as well as:

  • Difficulty in forming and maintaining a healthy primary relationship with a partner
  • Aggression manifested as acting our, destructive or criminal behavior
  • Excessive timidity in everyday life
  • Inappropriate fight or flight response to non-threatening circumstances
  • Difficulty mobilizing effectively in the face of real aggression or danger
  • Difficulty in setting healthy limits and boundaries, saying "no" when appropriate
  • Merging inappropriately with others to one's own detriment
  • Difficulty in responding empathetically to others
  • Confusion, difficulty making decisions
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, physical mutilation, over or under eating
  • Excessive risk taking, dangerous driving, disregarding the safety of others
  • Forced sex or having unprotected sex when children are not wanted
  • Failing to take responsibility for one's actions, blaming others
  • Difficulty setting appropriate goals and working towards them
  • Difficulty in foreseeing the consequence of one's actions
  • Consistent difficulty with some aspect of a task: intention, preparation, action, follow through or integration
  • Difficulty holding a job or establishing oneself in a satisfying career
  • Inability to successfully establish oneself in the world as an independent adult
  • Difficulties in parenting, abusive or neglectful behavior towards children
  • Difficulty in establishing an effective support system of family, friends, teachers and professionals