Identifying Child Injury Victims at Risk for Chronic Stress

Douglas Delahanty, PhD

The way in which a parent responds to a child’s injury often impacts how upset the little one becomes. This age-old parenting wisdom is one component of a new study by a KSU researcher into predictors of long-term post- traumatic stress in children.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded a three- year, $460,000 grant to Douglas Delahanty, PhD, professor of psychological sciences in KSU’s College of Arts and Sciences and associate vice president for research faculty development with Research and Sponsored Programs, for his project, “Emotion Processing Deficits and Risk for Impairment in Child Injury Victims.”

“We’re trying to identify which children and families will have a harder time after a traumatic event,” Delahanty says. “A small but significant percentage will develop persistent psychological symptoms that can impact their functioning for a long time. The trick is how to identify that small group and intervene with them.”

The research team consists of Delahanty, Karin Coifman, PhD, and Jeff Ciesla, PhD (both associate professors of psychological sciences at KSU), as well as Sarah Ostrowski- Delahanty, PhD, and Norman Christopher, MD, from Akron Children’s Hospital.

The primary focus is to test two new factors thought to increase risk for persistent distress in child injury victims: high threat sensitivity (how likely one is to perceive danger in a situation) and low inhibitory control (the inability to assess and rationalize their sensitivity to perceived threats).

Parental reactions to a child’s serious injury have a large impact on the child’s recovery.

“We’ve also seen that parental reactions to a child’s serious injury have a large impact on the child’s recovery,” Delahanty says. “And parental post-traumatic stress can have a large impact on a child’s functioning afterwards.”

A major goal was to increase the number of dads in the study. “Almost all research looks at the impact of the mother’s reactions on the child,” Delahanty says. “We know little of the father-child dyad.”

The grant also provides major support for students to be involved in the research. Undergraduate students recruit families and collect data at Akron Children’s Hospital, then follow up at regular intervals, Delahanty says. “Students gain critical research experience that increases their chances of securing employment or being admitted to graduate school.

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POSTED: Wednesday, September 4, 2019 03:06 PM
Updated: Thursday, September 19, 2019 10:46 AM
Dan Pompili