Applying Brain Science and the Effects of Stress and Trauma on the Practice of Speech and Language Pathology

Angela Prieto (GU Certificate in Early Intervention ’20) February 15, 2021

Because stress and trauma can hinder a child’s development, the child may not communicate their wants and needs effectively. Some examples of how stress can affect a child’s language abilities is if their learning environment is affected. Heidi Reed of Turnaround for Children tells us how important the learning environment is and the negative effects it can have on a child if it is not a positive learning environment. For language development, a positive learning environment includes consistent language input and good “speech models”.

Children, whose home environments are less than positive due to extreme poverty, homelessness, violence, etc., are stressful and can influence language development. For example, in order to provide for the child parents/caregivers may need to work long hours and may not be available to talk to the child with the frequency or intensity to develop language skills. Specifically, trauma can lead to young children to have “selective mutism”. Children with selective mutism chose not to speak or may only speak to certain people they trust because of the trauma they have experienced. Children exposed to neglect and abuse are at-risk for having a developmental delay compared to typical peers, especially in the language domain because they are experience these stressors at a time critical to language development.

Heidi Reed says, “it’s not what the kids or families can do but what we can do“, which reminds us to conduct a thorough parent interview to identify specific family stressors that could impact the child and what the child’s language environment is. We can help the families promote a positive learning and language environment. For example when serving a child, it is imperative for a provider to teach a parent/caregiver how to be a good speech model, and how to promote the best language environment for the child. Recognizing the impact of stress and trauma on a child’s development reminds us of that service providers need to focus on the child, the family, and the community.