Soon after Nadine Burke Harris opened a pediatrics clinic in a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco, she began grappling with the high rates of asthma and other illnesses that she was diagnosing in her patients. She wanted to understand why so many of the kids she saw were so sick.
“They would have chronic abdominal pain, headaches, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, opposition defiant disorder,” she said. “It could be that all these different kids have all these diagnoses, or it could be that there is one thing at the root of this.”
She found an answer in a decade-old study that showed a strong link between chronic disease and traumatic experiences during childhood — things such as physical abuse or neglect, or living with a family member addicted to drugs or alcohol. She knew the children she saw lived with high “doses” of adversity, she said, and it made sense: Trauma was affecting their developing brains and also their developing bodies.
So she began to regard her practice in a whole new way. She started evaluating children not just for their medical histories, but also their social histories. And instead of treating only symptoms, she sought to help with the root causes of the stress that were making them sick.
– Michael Alison Chandler