Dissociation Predicts Later Attention Problems in Sexually Abused Children.
Child Abuse Negligence
Adolescent, Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, Child, Child Abuse, Sexual, Dissociative Disorders, Faculty, Female, Humans, Male, Observer Variation, Predictive Value of Tests, Prospective Studies, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
OBJECTIVE: The goals of this research are to develop and test a prospective model of attention problems in sexually abused children that includes fixed variables (e.g., gender), trauma, and disclosure-related pathways.
METHODS: At Time 1, fixed variables, trauma variables, and stress reactions upon disclosure were assessed in 156 children aged 8-13 years. At the Time 2 follow-up (8-36 months following the initial interview), 56 of the children were assessed for attention problems.
RESULTS: A path analysis involving a series of hierarchically nested, ordinary least squares multiple regression analyses indicated two direct paths to attention problems including the child's relationship to the perpetrator (beta=.23) and dissociation measured immediately after disclosure (beta=.53), while controlling for concurrent externalizing behavior (beta=.43). Post-traumatic stress symptoms were only indirectly associated with attention problems via dissociation. Taken together, these pathways accounted for approximately 52% of the variance in attention problems and provided an excellent fit to the data.
CONCLUSIONS: Children who report dissociative symptoms upon disclosure of CSA and/or were sexually abused by someone within their family are at an increased risk of developing attention problems.
PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Findings from this study indicate that children who experienced sexual abuse at an earlier age, by someone within their family, and/or report symptoms of dissociation during disclosure are especially likely to benefit from intervention. Effective interventions should involve (1) providing emotion regulation and coping skills; and (2) helping children to process traumatic aspects of the abuse to reduce the cyclic nature of traumatic reminders leading to unmanageable stress and dissociation.