Their Little Body Never Feels Rested… The ‘pandemic generation’. The Impact on the Mind- Body & Behaviour

How old was your child in the Covid pandemic?

What has your child gone through?

What happened to them?

What were they seeing hearing doing?

Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on a Children Central Nervous System four (4) years on.

The return to in-person schooling and the impact of online teaching, along with the lost years of social interaction, have both immediate and enduring effects on the ‘pandemic generation’.

In considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, it is essential to acknowledge that a child displaying signs of distraction or hyperactivity does not necessarily indicate the presence of ADHD. It is a common scenario in my practice where parents share concerns about their child being diagnosed with ADHD by teachers, who are not trained professionals in diagnosing such conditions but can provide valuable insights into the child’s behaviour at school and on the playground. The classroom and playground are environments where a child exhibits different behaviours, each distinct and independent from the other. Environment plays a very big part when assessing a child’s behaviour.

A Neurodevelopment Pediatrician is the professional who would diagnose a child under 14 with ADHD and medication may not be their first go to. There is much to learn about ADHD and your child needs to be in the right hands for diagnosis and an ongoing treatment plan.

Note: Dr Google should never be used as a diagnostic tool

It is important to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected children, questioning the age of children during this period, and dismissing the idea that children are inherently resilient.

Note: Children build resilience over a lifetime they are NOT born resilient, and they do NOT just get over it!

The global crisis that began in January 2020 brought about along time filled with uncertainty for children, as they were abruptly pulled out of their day-cares and schools, separated from their friends, and confined to their homes for an extended period. Parents who were once a safe predictable soft-landing place for little ones were suddenly acting unpredictable.

For some children the pandemic was traumatic!

During the lockdowns, many children faced highly stressful situations, with parents also struggling to cope. Families were overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity, financial instability, health concerns, panic shopping, wearing face masks, no family support and limited access to essential services. This environment made it challenging for children to feel safe and nurtured at home, as they witnessed their parents facing difficulties such as job losses, housing insecurity, and health crises. Note: Small children are NOT lateral thinkers, they are also great intakes of information but very poor interpreters, their bodies keep the score…

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic extended beyond the physical restrictions, with children exposed to heightened levels of family conflict, domestic violence, separations, and the loss of emotional support systems. Some children experienced significant losses and grief without appropriate emotional outlets, while others were left unsupervised or cared for by unfamiliar individuals.

The pandemic also exacerbated existing social issues, such as an increase in single-income families, domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse. These challenges not only disrupted children’s connections with their peers but also compromised their sense of safety and security within their homes.

It is crucial to recognise that the experiences children went through during the pandemic, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) like abuse, divorce, loss, neglect, or witnessing violence, can profoundly impact their central nervous system and overall neurodevelopment. ACEs can lead to hyperactivation of stress responses, changes in brain structure, impaired neuroplasticity, altered neurotransmitter function, heightened sensitivity to stress, difficulties in emotional regulation, and long-term health consequences.

Despite the challenges posed by ACEs, early intervention and the creation of positive childhood experiences (PCEs) within safe and nurturing environments can help mitigate the effects of trauma and promote resilience in children.

Single income families took a sharp spike over COVID as did DV and Alcohol abuse

So not only did our little ones lose their connection with their peers, but they also lost their safe nurturing environment at home on some level.

COVID was not normal! We seemed to have brushed over what are the probable after effects of living through a Global pandemic as a child.

When a child undergoes adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, or witnessing violence, it can significantly impact their central nervous system (CNS) and overall neurodevelopment. Here are some of the potential effects on the CNS:

1. Hyperactivation of Stress Response: ACEs can lead to chronic activation of the body’s stress response systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system. This prolonged stress response can alter the functioning of neurotransmitters (e.g., cortisol) and hormones involved in stress regulation.

2. Changes in Brain Structure: ACEs have been linked to structural changes in the brain, particularly in regions associated with emotional regulation, memory, and cognitive processing. For example, the hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory and learning, may be affected, leading to impairments in these functions.

3. Impaired Neuroplasticity: Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganise in response to experiences, may be impaired by ACEs. This can hinder the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and adapt to changing environments.

4. Altered Neurotransmitter Function: ACEs can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin, dopamine) in the brain, which are crucial for mood regulation, pleasure, and overall cognitive function. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters can contribute to mood disorders, anxiety, and behavioural issues.

5. Heightened Sensitivity to Stress: Children who have experienced ACEs may develop a heightened sensitivity to stressors later in life. This can lead to exaggerated stress responses and difficulties in coping with everyday challenges.

6. Impact on Emotional Regulation: ACEs can affect the development of brain regions involved in emotional regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. This may result in difficulties in managing emotions, impulsivity, and behavioural problems.

7. Long-term Health Consequences: The cumulative effects of ACEs on the CNS are associated with increased risk of mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD), substance abuse, and physical health problems (e.g., cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders) later in life.

Overall, ACEs can have profound and lasting effects on a child’s central nervous system, influencing neurodevelopment, stress regulation, emotional functioning, and long-term health outcomes. Early intervention and supportive environments can help mitigate these effects and promote resilience in children affected by adversity. The good news is however, with the practice of Positive Childhood Experiences (PSE’s) safe stable nurturing environments can refocus how the brain processes trauma.

Research has documented the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on children’s mental health. In one study, they used extensive neuropsychiatric profiling from a population based cohort to investigate how the COVID-19 lockdown influenced mental health outcomes, focusing on the role of genetic susceptibility to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), assessed through polygenic risk scores (PRS). Their analysis included children assessed before and after the lockdown.

Children evaluated after the lockdown showed increased likelihood of ADHD diagnosis and higher scores across various neuropsychiatric scales, particularly in domains related to behaviour and attention issues. Importantly, the found a significant interaction between the lockdown period and ADHD PRS, suggesting that genetically susceptible individuals may be more affected by the stressors associated with lockdowns during childhood. These findings highlight the profound mental health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for children, particularly those with genetic vulnerability to ADHD.

Photo- Pandemic: Serious impacts on kids | Australian Human Rights Commission