Date of Award

Winter 12-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

PhD Counseling Psychology

Department

Professional Psychology and Family Therapy

Advisor

Laura K. Palmer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl Thompson-Sard, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John E. Smith, Ed.D.

Keywords

neuropsychology, trauma, executive funcitoning, attention, education, academic achievement

Abstract

Brain development, and particularly structures involved in executive functioning, occurs at different rates in children, leading to differential performance in school. Due to neuroanatomical changes secondary to the stress response, children who have experienced stress as a result of poverty and traumatic events may be at increased risk for cognitive difficulties, including attention, executive functioning, and processing speed (Blair, Granger, & Razza, 2005; DeBellis, Hooper, & Sapia, 2005). Prevalence rates among urban children suggest that 70-100% have been exposed to trauma (Dempsey, Overstreet, & Moely, 2000; Macy, Baryry, & Noam, 2003). Some of these children develop posttraumatic stress disorder and some do not, raising the question of resilience (Bonanno & Mancini, 2008). Difficulties with cognitive functioning, as well as the role of protective factors have major implications for school performance (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight, & Stegmann, 2004). The current study examined sustained attention, initiation, working memory, and processing speed and the influence of resilience in 47 underprivileged urban elementary school children, ages 8 through 13, who have experienced stress as a result of poverty and trauma. Data were collected through neuropsychological assessments and participant self-report measures. Results suggested that stronger resilience was associated with fewer difficulties with sustained attention and working memory. These findings have significant implications for resilience training and increased academic supports in the classroom. Suggestions and literature on such programs are provided.

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