- Remember that the brain is not one single system. It is many interacting and interconnected systems organized in a specific hierarchy. The most complex areas (i.e., cortex) are found at the top and the least complex (i.e., brainstem) at the bottom.
- Different parts of the brain -- different "systems" in the brain -- mediate different functions. For example, the cortex mediates thinking, while the brainstem mediates states of arousal.
- All systems in the brain are comprised of networks of nerve cells (neurons). These neurons are continuously changing (in chemical and structural ways) in response to signals from other parts of the brain, the body, or the environment (e.g., sight, sound, taste, smell).
- These molecular, chemical changes in neurons allow for the storage of information. The storage of information is the basis for all types of memory, whether they are motor, sensory, cognitive, or affective.
- Each part of the brain mediates different, specific functions. Each part also stores information (memory) that is specific to its function. This allows for different types of memory. For example, cognitive memory consists of names and telephone numbers, motor memory tells you how to ride a bicycle or type on your computer keyboard, and affect memory prompts feelings of nostalgia.
- The brain stores information in a use-dependent fashion. The more a neurobiological system is activated, the more that state (and the functions associated with that state) will be "built in." For example, practicing the piano, memorizing a poem, or remaining in a state of fear all exemplify different ways that the brain becomes activated through use.
- Different states of arousal (e.g., calm, fear, sleep) activate specific neural systems. Because the brain stores information in a use-dependent fashion, the information stored (i.e., the memories) in any given situation depends upon the state of arousal (i.e., the neural systems that are activated). One example of this is state-dependent learning; another is the set of hyperarousal symptoms seen in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A Complex System
The human brain, and its constituent parts, is the most complex system in the known universe. Each of its one trillion separate cells is in a continuous process of changing in response to chemical signals. From the moment of conception to the moment of death, the biology of each individual human is constantly changing, and the greatest changes are those that take place in the brain.
It is within this complexity that our species has found the capability to store the accumulated experience of thousands of generations and create human culture. Our language, religions, governments, childrearing practices, technologies, and economies are all man-made, yet all depend upon the remarkable capacity of the brain to make internal representations of the external world. It is this amazing plasticity and malleability of the human brain that allows humanity.
Our society has been ineffective in preventing, identifying, and responding to the maltreatment of children. The impotence of our social systems to help children does not mean that you, as an individual, are powerless. Your actions can have dramatic impact on children in your community and, by supporting the efforts of effective organizations, your actions can impact thousands of children in this generation and in generations to follow.
There are many ways that you can choose to fight the maltreatment and trauma of children. Whatever method you choose, know that however small your effort seems, your participation is critical. In the end, unless we all participate in some fashion, we will always fall short of our true potential as individuals and as a society. Choose to help in a way that works for you. You may want to work directly with maltreated children, or you may choose to contribute in any variety of important ways. Please remember, you don't need to work directly with the child to be able to make a dramatic difference in their life.
Give Your Time
In your community, there are children that need the gift of attention, respect, instruction, comfort, and hope. So many children from abusive settings have lost hope. Even brief interactions with respectful, honest, and nurturing adults can be helpful to the abused or traumatized child, allowing them to know that adults can be kind.
There are many ways to find children who need your time. Volunteer to be a foster parent, to rock the crack-addicted infant in the hospital, to teach a child to read, to be an aide in the local public school, to answer phones at a battered women's shelter. In all of these settings, you can enrich the life of a child. You can give a child hope.
Give Your Skills
You may not realize how your skills can benefit maltreated children. Desperately underfunded child protection, child welfare, and child mental health systems can always benefit from the innovative use of your skills. A residential treatment center may need help with accounting or computer programming. A local children's shelter may not have a library.
A dancer can teach some foster children how to dance. A computer programmer can teach these children computer skills. A writer can write editorials/articles/books about these issues or help an agency create a newsletter. Your skills, whatever they are, can be used to fight abuse.
Give Your Money
In the United States, we spend more money on studying and treating abusers than we do on their child victims. Research, clinical services, and specialized professional training in child abuse are dramatically underfunded. You can help support these critical activities by financially supporting effective and innovative programs such as the ChildTrauma Academy.
Please direct donations to:
The ChildTrauma Academy
5161 San Felipe, Suite 320
Houston, Texas 77056
Attn.: J. Rubenstein
Checks should be made payable to "The ChildTrauma Academy."
As you give time, skills, or money to help these broken children, you may find that your life will be enriched and that hope has a new meaning for you. You can make a difference in the life of a child with your time, and in the lives of many children with your financial support. Choose to act.
Give Your Voice
Play a role in helping change the policies and practices that have allowed our society to ignore children. Remember, children don't vote. And far too many traumatized children have no effective adult advocacy. We allocate research and service-delivery dollars in the United States in a way that reflects political power. Maltreated children have no political power in this country, nor any other country.
Whenever you can, talk to the media. Talk with your local, state, and federal representatives to inform them and urge them to think about the future of our children. Write letters or send e-mails to make them aware of your concern. They all say that children are our future. Make them walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
A Final Word From Your Instructor
I hope this course has provided an understanding of how the brain's very structure makes it so able to be changed through an individual's life experience and environment. It is through such knowledge that we, as parents, educators, mental health professionals, physicians, and others can begin to truly understand the behaviors so often exhibited by children who have been maltreated. Only through such an understanding can effective treatments and interventions be given a viable chance.
I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and thank you for your time and commitment to issues of childhood
Bruce D. Perry, MD, Ph.D.