Cognitive impairment in school-aged children with early trauma
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Exposure to traumatic events during childhood is often associated with the development of psychiatric disorders, cognitive impairment, and poor functioning in adulthood. However, few studies have examined cognitive function, including executive function, memory, and attention, in school-aged children with early trauma compared with age- and sex-matched controls. We recruited 30 medication-naive children between 5 and 12 years of age with a history of early severe trauma from a foster care home, along with 30 age- and sex-matched controls. Psychiatric diagnoses were based on Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia Epidemiologic Version (K-SADS-E) for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria and were confirmed with a clinical interview. The neuropsychologic battery was tailored to assess broad cognitive domains such as learning/working memory, executive function, attention, verbal/premorbid intellectual functioning, and impulsivity. There was a higher prevalence of subsyndromal symptoms in children with a history of childhood trauma, although they rarely met all of the diagnostic criteria for a disorder. Moreover, lower estimated intellectual functioning scores were associated with subsyndromal symptoms in children with a history of trauma, and they performed more poorly on the Digits Span Test of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-III Edition, suggesting attention impairment. There is a high prevalence of subsyndromal symptoms in school-aged children with trauma and an attention impairment, which may contribute to a cumulative deficit early in cognitive development. These findings further support the need for early interventions that can prevent cognitive impairment when childhood trauma occurs.
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