Janna Pickett


infants, language development, trauma, consequences of trauma, development


Infants between 0 and 36 months who experience physical and emotional trauma are at risk for severe social, emotional, cognitive, and physiological developmental deficits (Carpenter & Stacks, 2009; Jacobsen et al., 2013). As researchers search for protective factors against these deficits, productive language acquisition (the words an infant can verbally produce) has emerged as a potential predictor of resilience (Bellagamba et al., 2014; McCabe & Meller, 2004). This review proposes that infants who have acquired more advanced language, such as emotion descriptors, are able to define their experiences, learn how to respond to those experiences, and feel in control of their environments. This feeling of control provides resilience against external factors such as those brought on by trauma. However, trauma increases an infant’s susceptibility to cognitive deficits such as delayed language (Carpenter & Stacks, 2009; Jacobsen et al., 2013). Furthermore, infancy is a sensitive period for language development (d’Souza et al., 2017). When infants are traumatized, they may miss a critical period to develop language and then suffer long-term language deficits. Language provides resilience, but infants undergoing trauma risk language development deficits, so these infants are forced to confront the challenges of trauma with an underdeveloped language coping system. Infants are also at higher risk, in comparison to other age groups, of being exposed to traumatic events (Lieberman & Van Horn, 2009). Thus, it is vital to understand how—and in what contexts— trauma is related to lower productive language acquisition in order to protect this vulnerable population.

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