Brain Development and Child AbuseTerm Paper

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Isabel & Javier

Explain what affect regulation is and how it is developed in the brain. What mechanisms in the brain have contributed to the creation of Javier's behaviors?

According to Shore & Shore (2008), the development of appropriate attachment begins at birth. The interactions between parent and infant, including nonverbal right brained communication, are essential for the child to develop positive relationships with others later in life. The infant's developing limbic system, which governs emotional regulation, are shaped by the coordination of eye movements, touching, and positive bodily experiences. The parent responds to the child's needs and mirrors the child's expressed emotions, movements, and words as well as encourages the child to mimic him or herself. Conversely, the lack of such experiences can create the inability to form positive attachments later in life for the child (Shore & Shore, cited in "Modern attachment theory," 2015). The mother's mirroring of the infant's responses and responding to the infant's needs teaches him or her that the world is a secure place that will respond in a positive way. Conversely, a parent who does not respond to the child may make the child unable to respond to such nonverbal cues in the environment. The right brain is responsible for enabling the developing child to interpret subtle, sub-textual clues in the environment later on in his or her life. The failure to stimulate the brain during this window of development can be very damaging for the child.

Isabel seems very ambivalent about her role as a mother. Her relationship with her husband is strained. She may have been unable to care for Javier in an emotionally available fashion or subconsciously not wished to do so. Her needs are not being taken care of in the marriage so it is difficult for her to cater to the needs of her more vulnerable developing child. As a result of this emotionally impoverished upbringing, Javier has difficulty understanding the reactions of others, including his mother, which causes him to act out in inappropriate ways at home and at school ("Modern attachment theory," 2015). He is insensitive to the need to respond to others or to please others so even when he knows what to do he ignores these social rules (such as eating what is on his plate, going to bed at an appropriate time, or not wetting the bed). The more difficult Javier is to deal with, the more Isabel pulls back from him which continues the viscous cycle of parental and child miscommunication and under-involvement.

Q2. How does an understanding of implicit memory help frame an understanding of the mother (Isabel) and Javier's current difficulties with each other?

Implicit memory is what the individual remembers unconsciously; it affects his or her everyday behavior but it is not something the individual consciously recalls (Cherry 2015). When interacting with her son, Isabel has come to unconsciously expect bad behavior and this informs her interactions with him. Because Javier has no implicit memory of a positive relationship with another human being who addresses his needs, he exhibits aggressive and negative behaviors towards his mother and other people.

Part of the problem may be that because no one has communicated clear behavioral expectations to Javier, he has no implicit memory of what is considered normal behavior. Implicit memory is often called procedural memory because people remember how to do things like ride a bike or make toast based upon many repeated past experiences (Cherry 2015). Eventually, these responses become unconscious and unforced in character. However, Javier lacks these experiences in the realm of his previous social behaviors. He does not have an internalized sense of how to respond to others or know how to be kind and accommodating to their needs in an instinctive way. Being polite is not a natural, reflexive part of his social vocabulary. As a result, he experiences frequent frustrations and meltdowns. Part of this frustration may arise because he cannot communicate with people who do have an internalized vocabulary of how to behave in polite, effective ways in their interactions with others. Javier literally does not speak the same language as other people, in terms of his nonverbal social responses.

Another component of implicit memory is 'priming' (Zimmerman 2014). This involves triggering the memory process through subtle external cues. For example, saying 'hello' to someone may trigger the involuntary response to make eye contact and say 'hello' back. However, if Javier has not learned these social priming cues, he is not able to respond in the expected manner. Having a ritual about bedtime may be useful to trigger his desire to go to bed but the household seems too chaotic and disorganized to create these types of rituals, which are necessary for children to learn social and personal routines.

Q3. Describe what type of attachment style Javier is exhibiting? Explain how it was developed? How does it affect the neurobiology of the brain and the emotional life of Javier in the long-term? Support your answer with facts from text and class readings.

The psychological theorist Mary Ainsworth developed a theory of human attachment, stating that there were three basic attachment styles manifested by infants and children. Anxious-resistant children will exhibit marked distress when separated from a parent, often behaving in a 'clingy' manner and may punish the parent after the parent returns by ignoring him or her. These children have an enmeshed attachment style and are constantly worried about being abandoned. Their parents are frequently inconsistent about the way they express affection with the child or do not encourage the child to be independent. Anxious-avoidant children exhibit no distress when separated from the parent and appear unaffected whether the parent returns or not. These children frequently have not bonded with their parent because their parent is emotionally distant. In contrast, securely attached children can cope with parental separation but appear happy when the parent returns (Fraley 20120).

Javier clearly exhibits an avoidant style in which he seems to be relatively unattached to his parent for such a young boy and experiences little affect when she returns. Children that exhibit this attachment style often have parents that are insensitive to their needs. Because the child never forms an emotional bond with a caregiver, the threat of being separated from other people has little effect upon him or her. According to current neurological research, early attachment styles are coded within the human brain at a relatively early age. There is a specific internalized timetable within children's biological development when it is easier for them to develop attachments. Just as learning language is not innate, neither is learning emotional relationships. But there is also a window of development where it is profoundly easier for children to learn bot verbal and nonverbal emotional language because of the pliable nature of the brain. The physical components of the brain that control neurological attachment begin to stabilize by 12-18 months (Graham 2010). Once a pattern of attachment has begun at this early stage, it is very difficult to alter it.

Javier likely has a highly developed 'fight or flight' mechanism. He is apt to fight because that his natural, conditioned reflex. All human beings experience a suspension of rational behaviors when they feel they are genuinely being confronted with a treat (Graham 2010). But Javier has come to perceive threat everywhere and his responses have become abnormally developed, as he sees others as threatening even when they are not, causing him to withdraw or act out. This is a result of his early emotional condition.

Part 2: Neurobiology Question

Q4. Discuss the impact that childhood trauma can have on neurobiological processes that influence early affect regulation. Can therapy influence affect regulation? How?

Although it is well-known that soldiers experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), childhood victims of trauma such as sexual abuse can also experience PTSD. Early childhood trauma can cause permanent changes in the brain thanks to its alterations of hormones (which regulate mood) and neurotransmitters (Teicher 2000). Children who have undergone abuse exhibit limbic irritability similar to that of epileptics. Abuse victims also exhibit abnormal EEG readings: 72% of victims of physical or sexual abuse had abnormal readings in one study (Teicher 2000). Victims frequently exhibit deficient development of the left hemisphere, particularly the regions involved in memory retrieval. There is also poor communication between right and left hemispheres in the brain. Finally, victims of trauma exhibit abnormal activity in cerebellar vermis which regulates the limbic system and emotional regulation (Teicher 2000). Traumatic memories are stored in the right hemisphere of the brain and early trauma can cause permanent challenges with verbal expressiveness, given that this is governed by the left half of the brain.

Trauma produces hormonal effects which can likewise have permanent consequences. A lack of maternal attention can cause heightened stress responses because of decreased thyroid production and serotonin. It can also generate inappropriately intense responses to stress thanks to higher levels of corticosterone and lower levels of oxytocin (Teicher 2000). Altered levels of hormones… [END OF PREVIEW]

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