Many adults with disabilities may have their disabling conditions because of emotional trauma experienced in childhood, said book author Donna Jackson Nakazawa of Stevenson, Maryland.
In a telephone interview, she said, “I had an experience with medical trauma while growing up. My father died when I was 12. Many things ensued at that time that changed family life dramatically. It was unexpected and a gross medical error.” Her father was only 42 when doctors made the surgical error, which left her mother a widow raising four children.
She said, “Then when I was 14, I developed a fainting disorder that involved dizziness and falling down. For example, I went to the bus stop one day and found myself passed out on the driveway. By age 28, I was having frequent seizures and (due to fainting) had a pacemaker implanted in my chest. At 41, I was paralyzed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. After recovering, years later I was paralyzed a second time with it.” In Guillain-Barre syndrome, a person’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.
After her second Guillain-Barre syndrome attack, she needed six months to learn how to walk again. Today at 57, she still has associated balance issues, numbness, fatigue, and muscle spasms.
In her work career, she has been an award-winning science journalist, including authoring the book Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, which examines the lifelong emotional and physical consequences of adverse childhood experiences. She was keynote speaker of the 2016 Johns Hopkins Conference on Trauma Informed Healing, and has appeared on The Today Show, National Public Radio, and ABC News.
She said, “My book is a look at how early childhood trauma changes brain architecture and the immune system in a way that promotes inflammation in the body and brain hyperactivity. This creates a lifelong cycle of increased prevalence to disease and mental health and physical disorders.”
She said children experiencing unpredictable stress often have stress responses on constant alert that actually can change neural wiring. Over time, this leads to inflammation causing hundreds of disorders and diseases. In various degrees, more than 1,500 studies have linked childhood trauma with a greater likelihood of having different disorders and conditions.
In order to prevent problems later in life, Jackson Nakazawa said a child going through trauma today needed a reliable, consistent adult who could provide a strong sense of support and safety.