Cognitive Functioning

The effects of maltreatment can linger long after the neglect or abuse occurs.  Because caregivers have such a critical role in fostering children’s cognitive development, the sensory deprivation caused by caregiver neglect appears to be particularly detrimental to the cognitive development of young children.  Many neglected infants and toddlers demonstrate delays in language development, as well as deficits in overall intellectual ability.

Research has consistently found that maltreatment increases the risk of low academic achievement and problematic school performance.  School performance is also significantly associated with a child's ability to regulate emotional responses and interact competently with peers and authority figures, abilities that are adversely affected by complex trauma.  This may be manifested in the child as over-reliance on teachers for completion of tasks, reluctance to try challenging or new tasks, and poor relationships with classmates.

In early elementary school, maltreated children may show short attention spans and an inability to concentrate and organize thoughts or conform to the structure of the school setting.  In middle school, children affected by complex trauma are more likely to face disciplinary actions.  By adolescence, maltreated children may show problems with abstract reasoning and problem solving.  Also, because of their ongoing behavioral issues, they may experience more frequent disciplinary action.  Consequently, they may disengage academically.