(HealthDay News) – Exposure to interpersonal trauma (IPT) in the first years of life is associated with decreased cognitive functioning in childhood, with exposure in the first two years particularly harmful.

To investigate the impact of exposure to IPT in the first years of life on childhood cognitive functioning, Michelle Bosquet Enlow, PhD, from the Children’s Hospital Boston, and colleagues assessed 206 children participating in a longitudinal birth cohort study. Participant exposure to IPT (physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; witnessing maternal partner violence) between birth and 64 months was assessed. IQ scores were evaluated at 24, 64, and 96 months of age.

The researchers found that IPT exposure correlated significantly with reduced cognitive scores at all time points, even after adjustment for sociodemographics, maternal IQ, and other confounding factors. Exposure to IPT in the first two years was particularly harmful. On average, exposed children scored one-half standard deviation lower across cognitive assessments compared with children not exposed to IPT in the first two years of life.

“The current findings suggest that the first years of life is a period of heightened sensitivity to substantial and enduring cognitive effects from such exposures,” the authors write. “These findings highlight the importance of identifying at-risk families and preventing IPT in early life to promote positive cognitive development throughout childhood.”

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