What is the Impact of Childhood Medical Trauma?

One of the most important outcomes of the therapy we do at ITK is to reduce the long-term impact of medical trauma on children.  Trauma impacts a developing child’s brain and body in a very particular way.  It is different than the normal stress and challenges of childhood, in that these are stressors that are scary, chronic, unpredictable, and often difficult for adults in the child’s life to navigate or help support.


In her book, Childhood Disrupted, Donna Jackson Nazakawa, describes how adverse, chronic stressors in childhood change the very architecture of a child’s brain.  In the case of trauma (which distinguishes it from normal stress), the genes that drive stress hormones go into overdrive, triggering an inflammatory response that can last lifelong in a child.  She writes, “This early biological blueprint depicts our proclivity to develop life-altering adult illness such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, and depression.”  This means that even if a child is “cured” of an illness in childhood, the trauma of hospitalization and treatment of a life-altering medical condition can set that child up for a lifetime of secondary medical problems.   That is, unless the child is given therapy and support during treatment.


This is ITK’s unique and deeply valuable contribution to the treatment of children with special medical needs.  By providing therapy that supports not just physical, but also emotional, psychological and spiritual healing, we give children the ability to heal from not just their illness but also the trauma of hospitalization and treatment.  By also treating the families of these children, we help reduce trauma in parents, siblings and caregivers, which allows them to be more present and supportive of the child.  In this way, ITK not only contributes to the healing and well being of children with special medical needs in the here and now, but also sets them and their families up for ongoing wellness in the future.