The Disorder That Affects Us All: What You Need to Know About Developmental Trauma Disorder

Developmental trauma disorder is a condition that occurs when a child is exposed to chronic and severe stress in their environment. The term developmental trauma disorder was first coined by Dr. Bruce Perry who, in 1992, found that children can be traumatized as a result of neglect or abuse.

What are the Causes?

Developmental trauma disorder is caused by a child’s experience of neglect, abuse, emotional abandonment or other traumatic events. which may include a family member’s substance abuse or mental illness. 

What are the Symptoms?

As mentioned, symptoms of developmental trauma disorder generally develop when one or both parents have a mental illness, substance abuse problems, or were absent. The symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder but occur during a specific developmental period, such as infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

The symptoms of developmental trauma disorder include:

  • Excessive worry and fearfulness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Easily startled or frightened
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Depression and anxiety

How is Developmental Attachment Disorder Treated?

The most common treatment for this disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with medication. CBT can help people identify the negative thoughts and beliefs that are creating their problems and replace them with more positive ones. Medication can help reduce the symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, anxiety, and anger.

Other common treatment methods are psychotherapy and reactive attachment therapy. Reactive attachment therapy is a type of therapy that helps children who suffer from reactive attachment disorder to learn how to form healthy relationships with others while they heal their emotional wounds. The therapist will help them to recover from the trauma by providing them with unconditional love, care and support.

Children experiencing reactive attachment disorder often have difficulty in forming relationships with others and will tend to act out when they are upset. They may display aggressive behavior, talk back, refuse to comply with instructions or try to control their surroundings. They may also exhibit anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

It is important that the therapist is able to understand the child ‘s perspective in order to effectively counsel them. Therapists who are not familiar with reactive attachment therapy may need to research it or take additional training in order to provide the right approach for their client and minimize potential risk of harm.