Pediatricians now have a tool to screen for trauma

A pediatrician and his patient

It only stands to reason that children who suffer from traumatic experiences such as physical abuse or neglect--or even living with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent--would have a harder time battling chronic disease. But it took some time for a California pediatrician to make that link as she treated children at her clinic in a low-income neightborhood of San Francisco.

After she opened up her pediatrics clinic, Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., quickly discovered that an extraordinarily high percentage of her patients were struggling with asthma, chronic abdominal pain, ADHD and headaches, reports The Washington Post.

A decade-old study that she came across revealed that early traumatic experiences have a profound impact on children’s developing brains and bodies, so Harris decided to do something about it. The result is a screening tool that’s available on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Center on Healthy, Resilient Children’s website.

The screening tool includes questions that pediatricians should ask children about whether their parents are divorced or if they have suffered from physical or sexual abuse or emotional neglect. It also elicits from patients information about the mental health of family members--and whether they suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol, according to the newspaper report.

Pressed on how pediatricians can fit in one more thing to discuss with patients during a brief visit, Harris points out that doctors have figured out how to tackle other challenging issues such as advising parents on keeping their children safe from second-hand smoke when research emerged showing that health risk.

Thus, Harris is undaunted. “Does it seem like a difficult problem to solve? Yes,” she told the newspaper. “Does it seem harder than cancer? I don’t know. Medicine and public health are all about solving hard problems.”