Link – Childhood stress can yield valuable skills

This is a bit of an older article, but I found it interesting because I was actually having a similar conversation earlier this week.

“The prevailing idea is that interventions are needed to prevent, reduce, or repair the damage done to children who have grown up in high-stress situations. Most interventions are aimed at countering these deficits and getting “children and youth from high-risk backgrounds to act, think, and feel more like children and youth from low-risk backgrounds,” the authors write. In other words, the dominant approach assumes at-risk youth are somehow broken and need to be fixed.

“Our argument is that stress does not so much impair development as direct or regulate it toward these strategies that are adaptive under stressful conditions,” Ellis says. “Stress-adapted children and youth may perform better on tasks that involve situations and relationships that are relevant to them, such as social dominance. They also may perform better in settings that do not attempt to minimize the reality of daily stressors and uncertainties.”

Now, the conversation I was having had to do with a blog post I wrote about making accommodations in the workplace for physical and mental health conditions. My wife pointed out that we should actually be moving past that, and thinking in terms of what characteristics do people bring that we could use to help make them successful. For example, someone on the autism spectrum might need some accommodation in the office, but they might be absolutely awesome at working with data, or have some other skills that other employees struggle with a bit more.

As we learn more about childhood stress, trauma, and ACE scores, there should also come a point where we start to think about not just taking kids who have survived that and trying to “turn them back into normal”, but to take their experiences and figure out a way to help them succeed based on the skills they do have.

I’ve documented before that I think dissociating as a child, while a very dangerous trait to leave uncontrolled, has been useful to me in some situations where I need to set aside everything and focus on the task at hand.

Now does that make the abuse I dealt with as a child a good thing? Of course not. I would much, much prefer to not have that skill for that reason, as would any survivor. But I have it, and it’s probably easier for me to learn how to put it to good use occasionally, than it would be to “fix” it.

Maybe, when dealing with kids from stressful, traumatic childhoods, we would do well to focus on helping them succeed, and not telling them they are broken. Maybe instead of trying to get everyone back to “normal”, we can focus on the individual and their unique abilities and struggles.

Maybe. But we’re not there yet.

Childhood stress can yield valuable skills

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