Topical Review: Medical Trauma During Early Childhood

Journal of Pediatric Psychology

Alexandra C De Young, PhD, Rebecca S Paterson, PhD, Erin A Brown, PhD, Marthe R Egberts, PhD, Robyne M Le Brocque, PhD, Justin A Kenardy, PhD, Markus A Landolt, PhD, Meghan L Marsac, PhD, Eva Alisic, PhD, Ann-Christin Haag, PhD


Objective: Early childhood is a high-risk period for exposure to traumatic medical events due to injury/illness. It is also one of the most important and vulnerable periods due to rapid development in neurobiological systems, attachment relationships, cognitive and linguistic capacities, and emotion regulation. The aim of this topical review is to evaluate empirical literature on the psychological impact of medical trauma during early childhood (0–6 years) to inform models of clinical care for assessing, preventing, and treating traumatic stress following injury/illness.
Methods: Topical review of empirical and theoretical literature on pediatric medical traumatic stress (PMTS) during early childhood.
Results: There are important developmental factors that influence how infants and young children perceive and respond to medical events. The emerging literature indicates that up to 30% of young children experience PMTS within the first month of an acute illness/injury and between 3% and 10% develop posttraumatic stress disorder. However, significant knowledge gaps remain in our understanding of psychological outcomes for infants and young children, identification of risk-factors and availability of evidence-based interventions for medical trauma following illness.
Conclusions: This topical review on medical trauma during early childhood provides: (a) definitions of key medical trauma terminology, (b) discussion of important developmental considerations, (c) summary of the empirical literature on psychological outcomes, risk factors, and interventions, (d) introduction to a stepped-model-of-care framework to guide clinical practice, and (e) summary of limitations and directions for future research.

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