Abuse has an impact on the ability to learn

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This letter is in response to the recent report in the Post-Gazette of the School Performance Profiles (“Performance Profiles Released,” Dec. 12).

There are many factors that affect a child’s performance in school. Having the benefit of a mentor to help educate and serve as a lifestyle role model, as provided by the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, is an example. In addition, we need to direct more attention to early life events that alter the function of the brain.

Children who experience high levels of chronic stress early in their lives undergo well-documented changes in the structure and function of the brain. These children are at an increased risk for difficulties in school due to altered cognitive and language development, memory ability and social competency. In addition they are at increased risk of depression, developing diabetes and heart disease.

The major stressor associated with alteration of brain structure and function of young children is experiencing physical, mental and/​or sexual abuse. If we are going to improve the lifelong quality of mental and physical health of our youth, and improve the ability of children to learn and do well in school, we must address the health consequences caused by early life abuse. To do this it must be understood and accepted that abuse produces long-term harm to children.

Hopefully, programs will be implemented to reduce the amount of abuse of children and enhance the quality of mental and physical health of the next generations. Then we will have an increased likelihood of healthier and better educated children.

Professor of Pathology and Psychiatry
University of Pittsburgh

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