The Potts Family Foundation through its Raising Resilient Oklahomans initiative partnered this past week with the Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative and Ardmore Literacy Leadership to host a very successful virtual screening and discussion of the award-winning documentary Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope. As we always do, the weekend screening period was followed by a moderated panel discussion of professionals, mostly local, who frequently work with children and/or adults with trauma histories. This panel consisted of a local family physician, Dr. Mike Carhahan, Good Shepherd Community Clinic; Amy Miller, Area Director, Boys and Girls Club of Red River Valley Oklahoma; Kaylyn Weldon-Gary, Executive Director, Community Children’s Shelter and Family Service Center; and Cheryl Step, Consultant, Creating Resilience, LLC.
A nice summary of a portion of the discussion was written up in the local paper The Daily Admoreite by Drew Butler. Here's a link to the full article or you can read most it below.
Cheryl Step was one of the first speakers and she described how the brains of children with multiple ACEs are not as developed as those without them.
“When children are experiencing traumatic events daily or weekly, what happens is the alarm system within us get’s stuck on on,” Step said.
She said the brain is often divided into three pieces. The first part of the brain is the brain stem which is developed while we are still fetuses and it controls basic systems such as the heart beat and blinking. It also sends out the cortisol and adrenaline that is released when we experience the feeling of danger.
Step said the middle part of the brain houses the limbic system along with emotions both positive and negative. It also houses memory and the amygdala.
“I call the amygdala our watch tower and what it is constantly doing is searching the environment we’re in and linking it to emotions and linking it to memories and senses,” Step said. “As soon as it detects something that it senses as a danger — whether it is in actuality a danger or not — it sends that signal down to the survival brain, and that goes out as fight, flight or freeze.”
She pointed out that this is an important survival mechanism when there is a true danger, however when children are consistently put into a fight, flight or freeze response, this can lead to the third part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex or the thinking brain dot developing properly.
“That’s where your inhibitory control is — your ability to control your movements and what you say and do,” Step said. “What they’ve found in children who have experienced a lot of trauma is that the neural connections in that part of the brain are not as strong as in those children who have not experienced a lot of trauma.”
She said this lack of development can lead to children who cannot sit still in class or think about and plan their actions. She said the best way to help children make these neural connections is through a process called regulation.
“As adults we have to know how to regulate,” Step said. “If you’re in the fear state, that means regulating your breathing somehow.”
She said this can be achieved through breathing exercises or even taking a drink of water.
“That gets us into our midbrain,” Step said. “That allows us as adults in the room with children to be able to stay in the thinking part of the brain. We want to be the calm when there’s chaos going on all around us. It’s important for us to know as adults how to be able to use regulation. You have to know how to do it and do it with the people you are teaching about regulation before you can expect them to do it.”
Note: The Potts Family Foundation continues to focus on educating Oklahomans across the state on the impact of ACEs and the power of hope and resilience. We meet monthly with a network of community teams across the state basing our work on the ACE Interface Self-Healing Communities Model. In March, we will be sponsoring the first ACE Interface Training the Master Trainer program with Dr. Rob Anda and Laura Porter. For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">email@example.com.